John Beech
The State of Things

January 20 – March 19, 2011
at Peter Blum Chelsea

John Beech

April 1, 2011

John Beech loaded low-tech construction materials with high-art aspirations into this clever and surprisingly elegant exhibition. Formally abstract, the sculptures and altered photographs provided a sly commentary on Minimalism. But, unlike his famous antecedents, Beech lets all the seams and runny glue stains show, delivering industrial pieces that look entirely handmade.

            For example, Make, (2010), a stack of aluminum beams seemingly held together with bright-red duct tape, is a playful take on Mark di Suvero’s aggressive, monumental constructions. Rolling Platform (2010) takes Donald Judd’s plywood box and puts it on casters, then covers it all in a thick coat of garish orange paint, leaving little squares of raw wood showing where packing labels might have been. Works like these restore Minimalist sculpture to its blue-collar origins, referencing shipping containers and constructions sites.

            Beech has long been fascinated with Dumpsters, and here he delivered three huge photographs of these urban eyesores with their surfaces hidden by a layer of metallic tape. In Reutlingen Factory Yard #2 (2010), the Dumpster is transformed into a chaotic grid of silver strips. In Stagg Street (2010-2011), two views of the same Dumpster are stacked on top of each other, taking over an entire gallery wall, with metallic tape obliterating their forms.

            The wittiest works were also the smallest, including a series of Plexiglas boxes stuffed with materials that Beech uses in his larger-scale work. Blagen #7 (2011) looked like a miniature rendition of a crushed car by John Chamberlain, with its box of bright-colored, hardened paint peelings from the bottom of paint cans in the artist’s studio. Another box, Along (2010-11), was filled with dirty gloves and caulking adhesive. Somehow Beech’s dioramas of detritus always end up being visually appealing – quite a trick when the degraded materials are composed in an artfully clumsy manner.

 - Barbara Pollack