Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Walead Beshty ‘Production Stills’ at Thomas Dane Gallery

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on November 17, 2009

Walead Beshty’s first solo exhibition in London, Production Stills at Thomas Dane Gallery, shows that he is the art world’s Wizard of Oz. The young British artist who lives in Los Angeles effectively pulls back the curtain to reveal how his art is made, installed, sold, processed, and shipped; rendering the prestige of the final art object obsolete.

Production Stills includes Beshty’s familiar clear shatterproof glass cubes exactly measured to fit inside a standard Fed Ex cardboard box for shipping to their intended destination. The result is a fortuitously damaged object with varied web-like crack formations throughout the exterior of the work. Situated on top of the cardboard box from which it was contained, complete with the shipping label, Beshty creates the anti-pedestal while adhering the history of its journey to display. The exhibition also debuts his copper boxes (20-inch Copper and 24-inch Copper). Similarly contextualized, these are shipped with the label affixed directly onto the piece meaning that the elements it encounters, ranging from the handler’s handprints to water to dirt, create a stunning random visual pattern of stains, bumps, dents, and patina.

In all their forms, Beshty’s wall works provide a literal background for his boxes rounding out the differing ways we can interpret art production. Slightly less obvious than the former, his brightly colored large-scale photograms anchor each room. Created by randomly folding paper to manipulate the design caused from light exposure, his two-dimensional works equally render and represent elements of chance. However, a more tactile approach is apparent in his Selected Works, 2008-2009 where a pulpy mass of paper remnants and a hidden button down collar shirt are shaped into a neat rectangle. Two ink jet print photographs are also featured, one showing Bard College (showing where art is made and discussed) and the other a clever image of his laptop placed underneath an Elsworth Kelly painting at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (showing where art is displayed and discussed).

In his recent solo exhibition at the Hirschhorn, Hans Haake’s Condensation Cube sat in the nearby sculpture hall where the conclusion could be drawn that Beshty is part of a historical lineage of accessible, factory-made, conceptually intended cubes of made by Haake, Donald Judd, and Joseph Kosuth. Beshty is also situated amongst Allan Kaprow who would establish a set of rules for participants of his happenings and projects to enact at their own discretion.  Each artist exercises an authoritarian role while relinquishing control and it’s this tension between the controlled and uncontrolled elements inherent to Beshty’s process that makes the work truly alive. Importantly, his work is still firmly planted in the now by incorporating the familiar and superfluous materials such as fellow LA artists Jedediah Caesar and Kaz Oshiro.

Walead Beshty’s work is simultaneously abstract and minimal, constrained and free, rubbish and art, static and evolving. There are no bells and whistles here, no glamour involved in the artistic creation. Instead his work is the culmination of a controlled system that has uncontrollable circumstances purposefully built in. This results in an object without the obvious touch of the artist’s hand and one whose structure is intended to represent ‘what remains’ yet still holds a powerful aesthetic appeal.

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