John Beech
That and This

March 17 – May 5, 2007

Peter Blum Chelsea

John Beech at Peter Blum

Art in America
December 1, 2007

John Beech's latest show situated discarded soft objects in minimal sculptures made from industrial materials, to delightfully absurd effect. Artists have been dirtying up the Minimalist cube for decades, but Beech does so lovably, by affectionately parodying that movement's machismo while displaying a fine, empathetic sense for materials. In some 37 works, including painted-over photographs as well as sculpture, he displayed a deadpan humor also evident in the show's invitation card, which presented an unembellished litany of stuff he uses--"car-mat rubber fragments, plastic bin," etc.

Previous works by the British artist (b. 1964) include "Rotating Paintings" that jut out, perpendicular to the wall, and rotate on a lazy-Susan mechanism, thus qualifying as both painting and sculpture. The question of usefulness is a recurrent theme: a number of works include rolling casters attached to abstract sculptures in arrangements that allow no movement, "sending up their own utilitarian pretenses," as one critic put it.

In Blum's front room were three groups of small sculptures displayed on tables. The 'qurning Discs" are low-lying, and measure 6 to 12 inches across; each consists of two discs or rings in materials such as Plexiglas, rubber and plywood, some brightly painted, sitting atop one another and connected by hardware that allows them to rotate separately. Similarly, the 'quming Objects" each joined two plaster casts of the insides of anonymous objects like paint buckets and takeout food containers, one sitting upsidedown atop the other, many sloppily painted in bright colors. If, like the casters, the rotating hardware grants the sculptures a purpose, it's an endearingly pointless one.

The "Paint Rag Cases" are Plexiglas boxes, up to 17 inches on a side; their walls are thick in proportion to their size, lending them a comic chunkiness. Dirty, paint-sodden rags are stuffed in seemingly unceremoniously but actually reveal careful compositions of colors and fabrics. One might ask, is this sculpture or craft? If sculpture, how does it feel about housing trash from its rival medium?

Resting on the floor in the main gallery were two Plexiglas boxes, both buttressed at the seams with duct tape, one containing a futon (Bed Block) and one a chunk of dirty yellow foam, about 2 by 4 by 4 feet (Foam Block). Has Minimalism gone soft at the core, the pieces seem to ask? Or was it ever thus, the hard shells of boxes by Judd (in whose studio Beech once assisted) hiding a soiled interior?

Other works satirize Richard Serra's 1960s prop pieces (and inevitably recall Charles Ray's parodies of same). Pliable, dirty materials including car mats and couch cushions are encased in Plexiglas boxes that rest against the wall several feet off the floor, propped up by longer Plexi rods. Chunks of museum wax, a tacky material used to hold things in place--and usually hidden--are visible at the points where the corners meet the walls, giving the lie to the artifice inherent in the display of art.

Discussing Beech's use of historical references in a show two years ago, Donald Kuspit called it an example of the limitations of irony. But this is to ignore an equal measure of earnestness that makes the work much more than an orgy of scare quotes.

 - BRIAN BOUCHER