Posted on 12 June 2014.
L to R: Motherboard, 2014, pencil on aluminum; Flat Pencil, 2014, graphite on graphite plate, both 14 x 11"
There’s a delicious irony in finding barely readable drawings in a room whose sheer scale often holds out the promise of something lapel-grabbing. Credit the “code switch,” if you will, to the Uruguayan artist Marco Maggi. In West vs. East, a title suggestive of dueling philosophical systems, Maggi, in his sixth show here, defies the expectations raised by the environment in which his work appears.
At a distance, you could mistake a couple of his drawings for framed vapor. Which is to say nothing at all. But, when you move in close you see aerial views of imaginary cities drawn in a hand so small and precise you’ll wish for a magnifying glass and wonder what kind of savant created this work. Maggi seeks nothing less than to concretize the ever-widening gap between knowledge and knowingness.
Tablet, 2014, pencil on clayboard, 14 x 11"
The two are easily and often confused. Knowledge is what you acquire from experience. It’s something you own. Knowingness is the pretense of ownership. It’s what you get from Twitter or TV news or Facebook. Maggi, who now resides in upstate New York, calls out the difference and questions the ever-increasing conflation of the two. He does it by drawing on unusual substrates (aluminum foil) and by treating conventional media (paper, glass and plexiglas) in novel ways. The results are objects that call into question their own objecthood and force us to ask: What do we know and how we know it?
His drawings on foil and graphite plate, Motherboard and Flat Pencil, give off the look of collagraphs, a type of relief print. They’re made with incisions of near-microscopic scale. You can see how they’re done; you just can’t imagine executing them yourself, so fine are the features and the motor skills required to operate at this scale. Similarly, a clayboard drawing, Landmark, also in pencil, presents a map of a fictional city whose gauzy texture brings to mind the “thoughtography” of Ted Serios
, who claimed, fraudulently, that he could telepathically project images onto film. Plexi-Line achieves the equivalent effect, but through more reliable means, giving the impression of an abstract drawing in a box. It is. Except that the lines aren’t hand-drawn; they’re shadows, projected onto the paper from marks Maggi scratched onto the plexiglas surface. More beguiling still is the anamorphic sculpture called Frozen Ream. It’s an 8 x 11-inch plexiglas block onto which the artist has etched lines that, depending where you stand, flip the tonal relationships of a drawing embedded in the base back and forth between pure silver, black-on-silver and all-black. I wondered if mirrors were involved.
Plexi Line, 2013, X-Acto knife cuts on polycast plexiglas, 32 x 62"
In all of this deep looking I found myself most entranced by a piece in which all the elements lay in plain view: Spelling Square, a 60 x 60-inch grid built of 900 slide mounts. Each is backed by paper and carefully incised to reveal delicate, curling forms that stand out in relief from the surface. Many resemble tools with no obvious function. Imprisoned within 35mm frames, these almost-animate forms, drive us into the history of photography, raising (for me at least) the tantalizing prospect of how these paper sculptures might fare if they were placed in a carousel and projected in the manner of, say, Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, the original movie projector. The effect, I imagine, would be akin to that of William Kentridge’s stop-motion film animations.
By forcing us to slow down and look, Maggi hopes we’ll think about more than just his remarkable skills with a pencil and blade. In interviews, he’s talked about the brain-deadening effects of the Internet, and, more specifically, about the contradiction between the “complete coverage” promised by television news and what it actually delivers. To explore that subject he’s assigned titles that begin with those words to several works that
Complete Coverage on Norman Foster, 2014, cuts on 500 paper sheet in plexi box 11.5 x 9 x 2.25"
consist of excavated reams of paper. They’re hollowed out into grid-like structures that bring to mind any number of well-known Modernist architects whose names he appends to the titles (e.g. Complete Coverage of Rem Koolhaus). Each “window” is filled with the same kind of cutout shapes found in Spelling Square, the effect being mildly voyeuristic. Save the titles, they present no criticism, overt or implied, of either journalism or architecture. Maggi’s strongest suit, it appears, is messing with our perceptual apparatus.
The precedents are many. Ancient Chinese micro sculpture springs immediately to mind, as do the light and space experiments of the LA painter Roland Reiss
who, in 2005, cast perplexing shadows on walls by applying clear acrylic gel to open-at-the-back plexiglas boxes. Maggi’s work also relates strongly to contemporary book art whose practitioners shred and shape paper to comment on both the content of print media and its imperiled future. More recently, in 2013, the Crocker Art Museum mounted a show (Approaching Infinity: the Richard Green Collection of Meticulous Abstraction
) comprised of artists whose drawings and paintings were executed at an eye-straining scale, for which the museum (mercifully) supplied magnifying glasses.
Whether such practices will save us from seeing more and understanding less is an open question, one that Maggi lays before us with the self-aware glee of a seeker who’s discovered wisdom in his own obsessions.
–DAVID M. ROTH