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.