On ViewGreene Naftali
September 24 – October 31, 2020
Views of two dilapidated constructions, one in profile, define the entrance to The Terrace Theater, Gedi Sibony’s current installation at Greene Naftali. With almost anthropomorphic silhouettes, they register as a pair of hopelessly feeble sentinels, each at their respective station. Perhaps they are bouncers—or rather, the skeletal remains of bouncers from long ago. After all, in the 1980s, the Madonna-launching nightclub Fun House was just downstairs from the space that Sibony’s exhibition now occupies. Peering around the rest of the show, a visitor begins to feel as if they have arrived late. Tables are pushed against each other to make space for a now-departed crowd, an errant cup remains abandoned on a low plinth, the beige curtain fluttering in a rear corner marks a makeshift closet where any number of salacious activities were previously shielded from view. If one of Wolfgang Tillmans’s images of party-remains were reimagined as a stage set, it might look something like this.
Sibony’s practice has most often been contextualized as a revision of 1960s Minimalism, one of a long line of such later reworkings. In deliberately highlighting the precariousness of his sculptures, Sibony couldn’t be farther from that sense of monumentality commonly associated with the work of Robert Morris or Donald Judd. If, as Robert Smithson had it, the stacks and L-beams of classical Minimalism force past and future into an “objective present,” Sibony’s sculptures appear to be on the brink, their cracked and chipped foundations reveling in a performed ephemerality.1 The first sculpture that we come across after entering the gallery is Signs of Encounter (2019–2020), which appears, appropriately, as a pair of largely dismantled billboards or protest signs held up to face one another, each supported by a spindly base. Since Sibony produces his sculptures from salvaged materials, the encounter he names here could be one of discovery, repair, and beautification. However, his work—and this exhibition in particular—suggests a condensed absence, and so the cast aluminum and wood construction in question seems to refer to something altogether more entropic, a stripping down and tearing away. Signification, in turn, becomes primarily a matter of aporias and elisions. The various non-sculptural objects populating The Terrace Theater evoke a similar sense of having been worn away. Cosmogram (2019) showcases an ovular ring of objects, each articulated by latex paint and the negative space created by careful cutouts removed from a sheet of foam core. Similarly, in the small oil painting titled Still Life with Missing Elements (2019), the ghostly outlines of various elements appear as if they are disappearing into the ether. Sibony places strict limits on our ability to visually grasp the work around us. If Minimalism made viewers acutely aware of their viewership, Sibony suggests that voyeurism is a transitory privilege that can be stripped away at any moment.
Signs of Encounter, along with most of the works mentioned above, rests in the middle section of the gallery, one of three distinct areas, separated by partitions, that span the length of the space. As the gallery is entirely lit by windows on its right side, light steadily fades as we look towards the leftmost of these sections. Here, various elements rest beyond our reach, including but not limited to a black table, another beige curtain, a shelf, a suspended brass sculpture, and a small canvas. Bathed in light in the rightmost section of the gallery are a group of workstations, selectively adorned with paint and variously shaped wooden blocks.
The tripartite structure of Sibony’s exhibition reinforces the temporal nature of each individual object but now in terms of their placement within a theatrical narrative implied by the divided space. As we consider the gallery space from left to right and back again, we oscillate between graveyard and factory, between ruin and repair. Sibony’s work exists in an autonomous ecosystem with its own rules of life, death, and regeneration. Material traces of this elliptical process are suggested by the vanishing act staged in Still Life With Missing Elements and Cosmogram. Here, what looks like a banana (in the former) and a red ball (in the latter) have been excised from the two-dimensional surfaces of their respective paintings only to be rediscovered in the round, resting on tables in the right aisle of the gallery: the artist’s proverbial workshop. Sibony presents us with a pictorial and sculptural system whose internally regulated life cycle suggests that the artist’s interest lies in the ability of objects to operate independently. Sibony, it seems, started the engine and walked away.
The inchoate cycles at play in The Terrace Theater come to a head in the exhibition’s very infrastructure. Rather than fabricate his own architectural structure, Sibony made his partitions from the remaining walls of the last exhibition Greene Naftali held before closing for confinement. Those walls, whose materiality and craftsmanship is revealed by the windows Sibony carves into them, give form to the distinct “before” and “after” rung in by the pandemic, acting as a grim relic of mid-March. Without swerving into didactic messaging—he avoids explicit references to the virus, or even loaded associations like hope or loss—Sibony’s labyrinthine theater reflects the mental gymnastics and displacements involved in grappling with flux: here one minute, over there the next, reverie and rebuilding, shifting form and slipping away.
- Robert Smithson, “Entropy and the New Monuments,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 11.