Gedi Sibony attempts to enhance the idealist shortcomings of material. Solid matter, doomed to gravity, incapable of floating or levitating, is exploited for what it is and is not and will never be, when divested of conceptual meaning. The work is materialist in the most grounded way imaginable, but ‘imaginable’ is the key word here. The goal in such materialism is self-evidently the negation of conceptual, dematerial trends in contemporary art as well as the so-called critical artist, but there is a more interesting notion that these works provoke: that the material world is an alien one that has never been sufficiently created, that humans have had their heads in ineffectual spiritual clouds since the dawn of man. It is not as if Sibony tries to recover a lost materialism, but rather provokes an understanding of material that has never really occurred by exercising material unrestrained by content, through formalizing it.
Sibony’s exhibition at Greene Naftali is comprised of various dun-colored construction materials like 2×4’s, drywall, masking tape, industrial carpets, and large sheets of paper, all of which draw attention to mass by accentuating their hung or freestanding installation. Sibony tests sculpture on its own terms of freestanding-ness by using comparatively more threadbare materials than the girth originally associated with such history, most noticeably in Caro’s metal structures. It is like construction, but it is not construction, or even anti-construction. All materials appear used or recycled, but one can’t be sure, since many works have a deliberate assembly. In one piece, a large sheet of paper looks merely stapled to the wall at its top corners, but multiple staple holes in the right-center undermine mere appearances and intents. There is a sculptural history to this, whose barely visible, almost entirely emaciated appearance is a device for drawing attention to Henry Moore’s notion that a hole has equal mass to matter. Pulled staples nevertheless seem the artifact of a crippled implementation of aesthetic ideals – Sibony’s painstaking self-editing over where to put a staple for best effect has visual tractability in ways that digital editing, for example, does not. However, the pulled staples, which are also at the top, seem implanted as a device – the viewer somehow knows, through some odd intuition, that the center-right staple attempts are mere ruses, an excuse to put something in paper for the viewer, that Sibony would know in advance to put staples at the top because that is the best way to hang something, which seems to be his exercise. What appears as the artifact of basic construction is actually a false construction; construction is an occasion for mark-making.
Sets Into Motion, using wood, white paint, and screws, cobbles together a vaguely loft-like structure. Four tall upright pillars are legs for one flat panel parallel to the floor high on the left and two stacked on the right, slightly lower. It is a balancing act where the right side, which appears to have more mass, might lift the left side of the structure off the ground, since the legs are apparently not attached to it. Balancing, an exercise in gravity, is the work’s only content, as the material becomes supplementary to what is done with it by the artist. In other words, method exceeds material.
There are two installation-y sculptures in the exhibition: The Cutters, and The Brighter Grows The Lantern. Each is a wall-like intervention into the viewers walking space. The Brighter Grows The Lantern is a long vinyl sheet hung from the ceiling in front of a doorway to a room of its own. It hangs nearly to the ground, and has two shades of red light and one yellow projected onto the top of it. Void of lights, which it is not, the viewer thinks the vinyl sheet is white.
The Cutters bears a more literal resemblance to a wall, or Wall. It is placed grandly at the end of the gallery’s tunnel entrance and consists of a drywall surface replete with (presumably) putty-covered screw spots, a metal infrastructure, and an excised walkway oddly accentuated by draped canvas. Through the walkway, about twenty feet past and drawing a straight line of vision from the entrance to the back gallery wall, a rectangular slab of grey can be seen. The viewer can’t really be sure that the paint on The Cutters is there for any reason, as the wall is a representation of ‘Wall’, or that the putty is actually covering any screws or is mere aesthetic decoration. The whole wall might actually be freestanding, like the rest of the works, or wedged between the floor and ceiling, so screws might not be necessary.
The grey slab on the back wall is about two inches deep and roughly life-size, with two squares attached and flanking the left and right. The top right corner has the larger piece of grey wood attached like a sandwich board by the front and the back, while halfway down the left, a smaller one is likewise attached. The entire monolithic shape is apparently freestanding, opposing the viewer’s expectations for it to be attached to the wall that is roughly six inches behind it. If not glued to the ground, imperceptibly and super-sensibly, drag wind from passersby might influence whether or not the piece stands upright anymore. Fragility of construction is an occasion for careful attention, but careful attention is the only way to comprehend how fragile the construction is. In order to fully comprehend the work, the viewer needs to become ever more like a slab himself.
Amusingly, one might understand Sibony’s art as ‘Constructivist’, at least in object – it utilizes quotidian construction materials, all modern and pragmatic in nature. The materials are even iconic of construction, and little room in the exhibition is left for what is commonly construed as fine art. One watercolor (surprisingly similar to a Pollock buried deep in the current Abex show at the MoMa) and one drawing are strays amidst interior construction materials. The drawing itself is meager; two chunky legs drawn and redrawn in pencil, one somewhat netted or meshed, as if a preliminary sketch for where to place rebar when making a concrete leg. The other framed works are The Fortunoff Girls, two matted posters reversed in the frame, and taped at the top. Framed and matted, the posters, which don’t have parallel edges, don’t need to be taped at the top, and Sibony shows a sort of anxiety about gravity, as if he wants to be extra sure that the posters won’t fall. This extra caution is the only visible aspect of the picture plane, and aestheticizes such over-cautiousness. Nevertheless, part of Sibony’s brilliance here is to be Constructivist without being idiomatic of Constructivism, showing the objective difference between historical moments by retaining a similar subjectivity, consistent but threadbare. There aren’t diagonal lines, red colors, photographs, or other aesthetics here, but a different kind of newness that is divested of its fetishism; it would seem absurd for someone today to value the newness of drywall the same way Constructivists did new constructive materials in their time. Drywall, 2×4’s, large paper, rugs, are all new materials, but not really subjectively ingested with newness; there is no excitement around the material. What is new today is often considered banal before it even hits the shelves. Newness has a subjective element to it that is missing amidst the objective newness of rabid material production. Moreover, what separates Sibony’s Constructivist impulse from Soviet Constructivism is its domesticity – what is new in production today is not necessarily public in ways industry once was imagined. Turning over a rug, as in one wall-stapled piece in the exhibition, seems a simple way of showing the hidden public industry of the private domicile, or rectifying Cold War splitting of domestic vs. public in America and the Soviet Union respectively. That many of the pieces achieve their visual, minimalist impact by borrowing the human scale necessarily used in design reinforces this. For example, one wood structure hangs on the wall like a bed. The sensitivity to the most rudimentary of construction principles, things like stapling, taping and so forth lend the exhibition a certain type of Danto-esque ‘commonplace’ experience insofar as the viewer is often led to believe aspects of the gallery are works of art. Nevertheless, this is not the achievement of the exhibition. Rather, the fragility of construction is a device to draw attention to the actual works, which are not as quotidian, recycled, or everyday as they appear, as those qualities are exceeded through the artist’s careful deliberation, which is mimicked by the viewer’s carefully attentive body – something missing in the everyday, which Sibony masterfully uses against itself by an attenuated empiricism.
photo credit: John Berens