Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sculpture as Eccentric Furniture, Architecture or Clothing

Allan Wexler
St. Paul St. Gallery, AUT, Auckland
January 17 - 29 February 2008

Right now - unless you are using a laptop in the manner that its name suggests - I bet you are just like me, sitting in a chair in front of a computer that is placed on a desk or a table. Such items of domestic furniture, how do they serve us exactly? The table for example: what are our assumptions about this normally rectangular horizontal plane supported by four vertical stalks? And the chair? What are our expectations for that?

These ludicrously basic questions – that demonstrate the field of endeavour called ‘design’ – spark off two exhibitions at AUT by the New York teacher, artist and architect, Allan Wexler. One room shows the results of a three day workshop involving AUT students, Wexler himself, and his design consultancy partner, Ellen. This large gallery presents an assorted group of wooden kitchen chairs that have been discreetly altered by seemingly furtive carpenters so that some aspect of their functionality has been physically subverted or satirised. The other gallery shows a series of slides documenting Wexler’s own art practice, his consultancy work, and various public commissions.

The chair of course has been used by artists for a wide range of purposes. In the mid-eighties Australian artists like Mike Parr and Robert Owen used them in installations as a symbol for the presence of the individual Self (in Parr’s case conflating himself and Artaud; in Owen’s, himself and Yves Klein), just as Lucas Samaras did in the sixties with his outrageous extrapolations of ‘chairness’. With Wexler, the chair is not ornamental but closer to a restrained Shaker sensibility, and much more about social function. His chairs are often connected physically to other chairs, or mischievously separated by screens. Likewise his tables are large, with wide slots so several people can get into the centre of the flat plane and move closer for conversation at the perimeter.

Or if the furniture is for one person, Wexler moves into satire so that the table or chair is worn like an item of clothing. If the concern is practical and easy storage is required to get more working space, folding panels can be collapsed and even slid into slots that extend into containers outside the living area.

As some of these photographs show, much of Wexler’s sculpture shows a preoccupation with the body as a source of humour, a malleable raw material similar in attitude to the slapstick sculpture/photography of Erwin Wurm and Martin Kessels.

Wexler has been working and exhibiting for over thirty years and though not well known, has influenced several other, more famous, artists. Andrea Zittel’s caravan works, for example, owe his notions of compacted storage a great deal.

This is an excellent exhibition, especially Wexler’s slide programme, which takes the viewer far beyond quite the slightly conventional (but entertaining) student exercises of the other room to demonstrate a very unusual form of public sculpture. One can speculate – and hope - that his influence (or actual practice) might be seen in future such sculpture projects around Auckland.

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