Robert Beck: Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH

By Bordowitz, Gregg | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Robert Beck: Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH


Bordowitz, Gregg, Artforum International


ROBERT BECK'S RECENT EXHIBITION, "dust"--organized by the Wexner's Bill Horrigan--seemingly affirmed two contradictory positions: On the one hand, each piece in the show required the discipline of psychology as the methodological basis of its interpretation. On the other hand, each work refused any coherent psychological reading whatsoever. In this way, Beck's work avoids cliched interpretations while at the same time handling the very substance of creative labor.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Consider a group of small, framed, meticulously crafted works on paper. They seem to be examples of drawings produced in art therapy; indeed, all of these works, called Untitled, have parenthetical explanations of their source material--e.g., Untitled ("Psychological Evaluation of Children's Drawings" by Edith M. Koppitz/"The Artist as Therapist" by Arthur Robbins), 2001/2004. Among these drawings, a few sheets of paper retain their torn edges, as if they have been ripped directly from a spiral-bound notebook. Typed onto and sometimes directly over the lines of the drawings, the clinical notes of an observing psychologist neatly annotate the efforts. In some cases, handwritten lines are scribbled over typed notes. Defeating the hierarchy of observation between doctor and patient, diagnostic interpretations and patients' marks are assigned the same status. Beck conflates the results of two or more differing psychic processes. Separate interpretations revolving around the same events find their final form collaged into one expressive document.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A suite of five large photographs from 2004 occupied one wall. All are titled Screen Memory, with the parenthetical titles Family Room, Sister's Room, Brother's Room, Father's Room, and Mother's Room. Memories of home become stand-ins for family members, as each photograph contains a different dense, grainy accretion of overlaid images--a sailboat, a unicorn, the American flag, an eagle, geese, Jesus. Like Freud's description of the unconscious, Beck's photographs are spaces where the laws of time and physics do not apply. Many objects can rest in the same place at the same time.

The key to the exhibition was a painting on a bathroom partition. Standing in front of Untitled (Clean), 2004, facing the shiny surface, the viewer expects to see his or her reflection. That expectation is defeated. The steel surface, hung slightly higher than eye level, has a limited reflective capacity. The work of art promises to return the viewer's reflection, and it fails. But is the term failure appropriate? Perhaps the work refuses to return the viewer's image. Which does it do, fail or refuse? The painted and scratched marks on the surface of the metal do not aid the search for the self. A phallic graffito floats loosely detached in the composition. Whose cock is it--the artist's, the viewer's, the painting's? …

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