by Jack Mottram, a freelance writer based in Glasgow · About · Contact · Feed

Scott Myles at Modern Institute

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Scott Myles’ third show at the Modern Institute is a curious one. It offers a welter of con­tra­dic­tions, a flurry of loosely expressed con­nec­tions both to art history and to Myles’ own practice, and, taken as a whole, verges on the be­wil­der­ing.

The show opens with a set of four flat sculp­tures, affixed to the gallery walls by the edge. Each is made from aluminium, with de­c­or­at­ive surfaces, marbled in pretty pink and sickly violet hues. The marbling is, in turn, overlaid by matte black screen-printed sections, sug­gest­ive of letter-forms. Between them, lying on the floor, is a bronze cast of a bog-standard stackable plastic chair, its surface painted with crude ap­prox­im­a­tions of light and shadow. Next door in the second gallery, another bronze, this time a stern pillar is similarly over­pain­ted, and a simple tri­an­gu­lar shelf supports its own mirror image, and both are marbled, this time in mono­chrome black and white.

All display a sort of restless to-and-fro of ideas. The crafted marbling of the wall-sculp­tures denies their min­im­al­ist heft, and, while their placement suggests signage, that sug­ges­tion is denied by the il­le­gib­il­ity of the printed letters. The chair is upended, im­me­di­ately calling to mind Duchamp’s fountain, even though it is not a readymade, but a bronze, offering up the old chestnut of turning a quotidian object into a mo­nu­ment­al, museum-bound sculpture. Then there’s the crude painted coating of the chair and it’s companion column, a sort of ex­pres­sion­ist gloss ob­l­it­er­at­ing the other allusions contained within the work. It’s as if Myles is running amok, latching onto art movements and pressing them together according to some arcane, im­pen­et­r­able scheme of his own devising.

Some works also seem to require a fa­m­il­i­ar­ity with Myles’ past practice, which has ranged far and wide, from work firmly in the con­cep­tu­al camp to per­for­m­ance to the sculp­tur­al pieces of the sort seen here. For a past project, Myles collected posters given away at ex­hib­i­tions by the late Cuban artist Félix González-Torres, drew on the reverse side and displayed the results in perspex cabinets. And, for an earlier show at the Modern Institute, he presented a bus shelter, its perspex siding slathered with white paint. Now, in the second room of the Modern Institute’s main gallery, we find a perspex display case, slowly revolving on a plinth, some of its panels imprinted with smoky black whorls of paint. It’s possible that Myles is simply fond of perspex for its material qualities, but, more likely, he’s quietly building a set of as­so­ci­a­tions between his work, past and present, so that, say, the tension between acquired readymades - the bus shelter, the bookcase, even the González-Torres posters - and Myles’ drawing and painting hand is em­phas­ised over time. Does it matter if a visitor to this latest show is un­fa­m­il­i­ar with Myles’ prior art? Maybe. Without this hint of subtle con­t­inu­ity, of an ongoing con­ver­sa­tion between seemingly separate works, the untitled display case feels like an awkward addition to the show, tenuously linked to its fellows by those wisps of black, but ul­ti­m­ately adrift.

Similarly adrift, for any viewer, are a pair of works relating to Lawrence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Sterne’s piling up of reference and allusion, his im­me­di­ately ap­pre­ci­able, overt in­flu­ences, the slow re­v­el­a­tion of structure through the as­so­ci­a­tion of ideas in Tristram Shandy, and even the slow serial pub­lic­a­tion of the novel are an obvious fit for Myles in­ter­lock­ing, evolving practice, but his treatment of the novel as a source is sur­pris­ing. Hidden away in the gallery’s office space is an etching based on a full stop from an edition of Tristram Shandy. It is barely re­co­g­n­is­able as such and, in fact, the pulpy surface of the paper and the spreading ink on its surface call to mind, of all things, an in­dis­t­inct portrait of an 18th century gentleman. Outside in the gallery proper hangs a large colour pho­to­graph that initally appears com­p­letely blank, but on closer in­spec­tion reveals another full stop at its centre, this time actual size, and taken, the title tells us, from a bootleg edition of Sterne’s opus. Perhaps this is a new, winking approach to the readymade, elevating the status of a humble piece of pun­c­tu­a­tion. But, if that’s the case, what are we to make of Myles blowing up the ‘official’ mark to mo­nu­ment­al scale, and putting the bootleg version in its tiny place? He might be un­der­lin­ing the au­then­t­i­city or otherwise of works like the chair sculpture, he might be adopting Tristram Shandy as an influence in as neutral a way as possible, or he might be up to something that will become clear, or at least less opaque, in two or three years time, as future in­stal­l­a­tions return to Sterne.

On paper, this might all sound rather tiresome, but in the flesh the game of reference and counter-reference Myles plays is hugely appealing: the work of un­tangling the ideas behind these objects is its own reward.

This review was first published in The Herald on September 28th, 2007.