Magazine article Artforum International

Cerith Wyn Evans: Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

Magazine article Artforum International

Cerith Wyn Evans: Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

Article excerpt

PEOPLE UNACQUAINTED with the London art world are probably unaware of how central a presence Cerith Wyn Evans is here. Admittedly, to a certain extent this quasi-institutional status derives from his flamboyant party persona--he is a stately figure in Dior suits, dispensing Wildean pronouncements with a strict Welsh lilt. But his standing owes even more to his austere, heavily encrypted, crisply poetic tableaux, in which chandeliers, fireworks, and other objects are charged with literary, cinematic, and countercultural references. This elegant body of work has had formative impact on a younger generation of London artists who move in his orbit.

The recognition accorded Wyn Evans is somewhat belated: Now approaching fifty, he started out as a filmmaker in the '80s and turned to art in the early '90s, although his use of light and temporality continues to bespeak his roots in experimental film. Last year he had solo exhibitions at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Munich Stadtische Galerie and finally at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts. The last show, titled "Take My Eyes and Through Them See You," was a homecoming to the institution that hosted Wyn Evans's first public events in the early '80s: weekly screenings, produced in collaboration with fellow filmmaker John Maybury, in which the two young auteurs premiered their own work, boosting the events with camp surplus (perfuming the cinematheque, playing interval music, serving fruit and cigarettes). This history is foundational to Wyn Evans's recent show, and so too is the ghost of another ICA event: Marcel Broodthaers's final exhibition, "Decor," 1975, which, as Wyn Evans explains in an accompanying pamphlet, had a profound effect on the teenage artist when he saw it that year.

Wyn Evans has often declared his disdain for accessibility; viewers must labor intensively to interpret the multiple opacities in his work. Architectural theorist Mark Cousins has brilliantly compared this experience to that of a deaf man staring at a radio. "Take My Eyes and Through Them See You"--a precisely executed installation occupying both floors of the ICA--was no exception. It assumed a familiarity with the venue's history, as well as an ability to decipher citations both textual and visual. Viewing the exhibition without the pamphlet, which featured an extended interview with Wyn Evans that elucidated these references, would have been not unlike staring at a gadget designed for a missing sense--and indeed, visitors who ignored this operating manual took the show as little more than a series of hasty, appropriated gestures.

The first work one encountered was a striking understatement, particularly so during the week of the Frieze Art Fair and its attendant spectacles. Wyn Evans had removed a wall in the lower gallery to reveal four decrepit windows. This gesture evoked a number of historical precedents associated with institutional critique (Gordon Matta-Clark, Michael Asher), but it also brought another exhibitionary convention to mind: multiscreen projections, spectacularly commanding the length of a gallery. Because the ICA's lower gallery is below street level, the view through the newly exposed windows became a real-time film of lower legs and traffic, undramatic and banal yet still elegant.

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This work was titled Decor, but there were more explicit homages to Broodthaers's final show in the upstairs spaces, which overlook the Mall (the road leading to Buckingham Palace), the Horse Guards parade ground, and the back of Downing Street. In one of these upper galleries, Broodthaers had shown his 1975 film La Bataille de Waterloo (The Battle of Waterloo), with its shots of the annual Trooping of the Color, an event visible from the ICA. Scattered throughout the space were his signature palms from the Belgian Congo. Wyn Evans replicated this layout in the same gallery, installing a large film projector screening the short 35-mm film Take My Eyes . …

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