Scott Lyall: Power Plant, Toronto

By Adler, Dan | Artforum International, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Scott Lyall: Power Plant, Toronto


Adler, Dan, Artforum International


"THE COLOR BALL"--Scott Lyall's most ambitious exhibition to date--might be seen as a culminating event for a young conceptualist whose oeuvre has been increasingly recognized for its formally sophisticated resistance to the workings of the culture industry. Curated by the Power Plant's director, Gregory Burke, the show took the form of a single installation resembling an entertainment venue or stage set, seen before a performance or a fete of some kind. This condition of anticipation lent a feeling of temporal displacement to a display that did not contain "finished" products. Rotating party lights were positioned overhead on two huge metal armatures like those used in concert halls. A bunch of circular table-tops and trays were stacked up alongside a smoke machine, which spewed vapor that seemed to dance about in the movements of the lights above. Folded white linens, fine china encased in plastic, and oversize martini glasses awaited lipsticked mouths, hors d'oeuvres, and cocktails.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

These ready-made objects competed compositionally with a centrally located series of low-slung, hard-edged rectangular sculptures with angled ends. Composed of alternating layers of raw MDF and pink Styrofoam, each of these striped units had been exactingly cut with a laser; they were placed in a rough zigzag configuration. Too horizontally elongated to serve as conventional museum plinths and too low to the ground to function as buffet tables, the objects seemed akin to retail display platforms--maybe for shoes and clothing--or perhaps portions of unassembled stage sets. In recent months, at venues including New York's SculptureCenter and Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, Texas, Lyall has proved himself adept at employing these highly abstract shapes--which he calls "fills"--in ways that open them up to such varied identities. In Toronto, he has either left the platforms bare or adorned them with materials, often derived from the shipping and catering industries, that stray from the easy satisfactions of consumerist desire. On one of the largest fills, viewers encountered the reflective sheen and utterly mundane shape of some neatly folded black tablecloths as well as a few air-filled plastic bags used for packing the sort of sought-after luxury items that were pointedly absent from the installation. This sense of absence was further inflected by such details as a decomposing wreath of autumnal leaves propped against one of the fills. On the floor nearby stood a nearly depleted bottle of Gold Liqueur, a knockoff of Goldschlager, the schnapps known for its ostentatious inclusion of flakes of precious metal. Tableaux like this prompted one to read the installation as a decaying still life, its motifs associated with the excesses of the wealthy and of art institutions--the likes of which have become familiar in recent years and, in our current moment, are bound to seem all the more provocative. …

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