Magazine article Artforum International

Justin Beal

Magazine article Artforum International

Justin Beal

Article excerpt

Justin Beal's second solo exhibition continues his project of revealing the repressed of modernist architecture and design. At first encounter, his wall-mounted sculptures seem ascetic, cold. Slabs of slick-surfaced materials--aluminum, Plexiglas, and mirror--are bound together by plastic stretch wrap, often coated with glossy black and white enamel. In some pieces, the wrap delineates the contours of a hidden, protruding hexahedron; in others, it captures a tangle of transparent tubing, whose length grazes the floor. The work appears to be a simple rehashing of Minimalist aesthetics with up-to-date materials, redolent of commercial displays of high fashion and design. Yet prolonged observation reveals purposeful details that betray the artist's handicraft. Drips and drops of enamel and short lengths of transparent tape interrupt the mirrored surfaces, which emphasize imperfections by doubling them in reflection. While these "flaws" index the artist's body, the mirrors reflect fragments of the viewer at every turn--notably legs, hips, and thighs.

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Props placed on two low, glass-topped tables make the corporeal suggestions unmissable. Scattered across the first table, in the show's eponymous Hot Hot House (all works 2010), are seven cucumbers--five fresh (from hothouse growers) and two coated in nickel-plated plastic--strongly recalling Fluxus artist Robert Watts's early-1960s chrome-plated sculptures of food items such as eggs, chocolates, cabbage heads, and sticks of butter. Watts's shiny, inedible foodstuffs were a joke on the consumer culture of their time--an era that witnessed marketers devising ever-new ways to make goods more desirable. But Beal's deployment of aestheticized food objects (his last solo show here included forms in the familiar bulbous shape of POM bottles) extends the critique to a contemporary design world that would demand that a vegetable turn platinum to match the look of its environment. In other words, this work performs a critique-by-imitation of a design culture whose aesthetic demands, translated into an entire, marketable lifestyle, become irreconcilable with the basic goals of sustaining and nurturing human life.

The other table piece, Kracklite, features a projector that loops a silent clip from Peter Greenaway's 1987 film, The Belly of an Architect. In the scene, architect Stourley Kracklite visualizes the length of his diseased intestine with a span of medical tubing (the same kind that appears in Beal's wall sculptures). …

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