"Brendan Fowler with Joel Mesler and Carol Cohen (Spring 2011)" at UNTITLED (Summer 2011)
Few artists, of whom Brendan Fowler is one, manage to mediate the too-cool-for-school camp (Gedi Sibony, Wade Guyton, anyone at Andrew Kreps) and the always-in-school group (Whitney Independent Study Program alums). It takes a high-wire act to be both visually laconic and verbally sanguine (being a musician doubtlessly helps with the former, while being an editor of ANP Quarterly facilitates the latter). Like that of his closest compatriot Seth Price, Fowler’s writing, which he issues prolifically in the form of interviews, press releases, and essays, hovers on the precipice of foreclosing the actual artworks’ interpretive possibilities. Formal and material impact is necessary to counterbalance such verbiage, and Fowler’s recent show at UNTITLED, Brendan Fowler with Joel Mesler and Carol Cohen (Spring 2011), exceeds the task.
While some of Fowler’s formal tricks remain rudimentary (the tiling of photographs, the repetition of canted rectangles), others, like the impaling of three framed prints with a fourth (a motif held over from Fowler’s 2009 solo show at Rental), surprise in their success. Still others—like the mise en abyme of a photograph of a mirror that reflects the wall on which it hangs, affixed to which is a card relaying the work’s information—fall somewhere in between rote and successful.
This last piece’s title, Spring 2011 Wall (8 x 8' White Flat) / Spring 2011 (Mirror Reflecting Black Flat) / Spring 2011 (Mirror Reflecting White Flat) / Spring 2011 Wall (4 x 8' White Flat), suggests that four individual works comprise it. Given that this and other groupings in turn coalesce into what initially resembles a single, coherent, exhibition-sized installation, the term "synthesis" comes to mind. Yet parts are discreet and deducible, their pairings logical (black/white, real/reflected), and the construction methods DIY. Fowler’s work is not synthetic, but instead open, even honest; it puts its cards, face up, on the table.
“Openness” has received much critical play in recent years. Nearly always, the term refers to interpretive open-endedness. Perhaps as a concession, Fowler departs from his previous shows and includes little textual accompaniment save for an illuminating, if succinct, interview-cum-press release (where he reveals the other names in the title as the people behind UNTITLED). But delimiting an artwork’s scope does not necessarily mean limiting the viewer’s share. At its best, Fowler’s practice recalls an openness of another sort, predicated on giving rather than on withholding information. Previously, this sharing occurred by means of expository texts. In this exhibition, he develops a physical analogy to that textual generosity through the transparency of his work’s construction. Either approach marks Fowler’s work as salutary in an age when clarity of intention (on the artist’s part) and specificity of meaning (on an artwork’s part) are curtailed in admirable if often overzealous attempts to safeguard interpretative prerogatives (on the viewer's part).