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Speaking Parts

Goya showcases three artists who come up with fascinating wholes

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2010:05:26 12:52:32

Wilhelm Mundt's "Trashstone 494"

Photo: , License: N/A

A still from Christian Marclay’s “Telephones”

Fusion: Christian Marclay/ Pia Fries/ Wilhelm Mundt

Through Nov. 4 at Goya Contemporary

That ringing in your ears isn’t a hallucination. It’s merely one of mixed-media artist Christian Marclay’s many appropriations. In this instance it’s a collage of phone conversations. His 1995 single-channel video “Telephones” excises clips of phone conversations in movies and rearranges them into a different montage. The narrative is edited in the usual progression—somebody dials a phone, another phone rings, somebody answers and says “Hello,” somebody listens, somebody says “Goodbye,” the phone is hung up—but over this seven-minute-and-15-second loop each shot sequence is broken up and spread out. In other words, when Marclay uses phone conversations involving James Stewart from Vertigo, the sequence doesn’t progress from dialing to hang up succinctly in the usual fashion. Disrupting the continuity of the sequence are clips from other movies, such that you may watch a whole series of stars—Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, etc.—dial a phone before you see a phone from Vertigo ring and get answered. “Telephones” is a simple but effective way of both pointing out the conventional film language of a phone conversation and subverting it, the sort of combination of low-tech/high-concept insouciance that permeates Marclay’s various works.

It’s also the mirthful spirit running through Goya Contemporary’s Fusion, a three-artist show of various recontextualizers. Marclay favors toying with the pathway connecting the eye and ear. Swiss artist Pia Fries works with various media and printing processes for her two-dimensional panels, while German sculptor Wilhelm Mundt makes industrial waste into shiny objects.

Really shiny objects. Mundt’s two pieces here—”Trashstone 494” and “Trashstone 500”—are about the size and shape of ordinary trailside boulders you might encounter while hiking around the Grand Canyon. They’re oblong and not perfect spheres or ovoids, with some edges more worn from wear than others. Only they’re brightly colored—“500” an eggshell white and “494” high-visibility yellow. At some of their edges the outer layer of color appears to have been sanded down, revealing rings of black and white underneath. It looks like what happens if you cover a sheet of paper with differently colored wax crayons, color over them with black, and then scrape off areas of black with a pair of safety scissors: a smear of other hues hiding just below the surface.

Mundt began making these Trashstones in the late 1980s and early ’90s, for which an accumulation of studio debris and personal effects are amassed, covered in fiberglass, and then smoothed and polished. Their gentle curves and seated blobbiness fall someplace between Henry Moore’s casual modernism, Robert Rauschenberg’s autobiographical assemblages, and Franz West’s rakish wit—though with none of the performative challenge. Looking at them, you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be seduced by their reflective surfaces, as shiny as a car on a showroom floor, or be a little put off that you’re feeling a little curious about an artist’s polished rubbish.

Fries’ seduction isn’t as barbed. She studied under Gerhard Richter in the 1980s, and his virtuosic command of noise runs through her work. Just as it’s often impossible to trust the eye when looking at Richter’s paintings, Fries’ surfaces make you want to question what you’re looking at and how it was created. In her pieces she combines various aquatints with Photogravure and etching processes, and her vocabulary modestly recalls Richter’s overpainted photographs of the 1980s without the intentional excess. In “Pliss,” one set of designs runs up the left third of the page, while a different but similar-looking design occupies the right third of the composition. These designs—spiraling sprouts, almost coral-like—could possibly be found in nature, but as depicted their origin remains obtuse. You’re left to respond to the gestural forms, the color choices, and Fries’ subtle touch.

Fries uses such fragmentation toward more lyrical mood; Marclay riffs on it for wiseacre wit. His eight pieces here—“Telephones,” a series of six photographs, and 1997’s “Shuffle” card deck—capture only a small portion of his sly enterprise. Music has always been Marclay’s starting point, and his visual art and installation career since the late 1970s could be understood as a visual thinker figuring out how he wanted to control sound.

That idea directly informs his “Shuffle,” a series of cards featuring musical notations—notes, clefs, etc.—used in ordinary graphic design (on teacups, on signs, on menus, and so forth). The cards are meant to be used as a score, which a musician can interpret however he or she wants. At Goya, a pair of headphones featuring musicians interpreting the piece accompanies the installation. Fans of nonidiomatic improvisation will recognize the sounds well.

And what you do and don’t recognize is the recurring treat of “Telephones.” If you stand watching the loop for any amount of time you fall under its spell, and you start playing memory games with yourself: What Bogie movie is that? Is that Shelley Duvall in The Shining? I’m a little embarrassed I can name that Meg Ryan movie from that single shot. It’s not until you watch it for a good while and notice what you’re not seeing at all—cell phones—that you begin to understand just how much of a memory exploration the video is. ■

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