In Oscar Tuazon’s 21st-century iteration of process art, objects and spaces fail—or at least threaten to. Buildings are cut into and stretched to their limits. Walls bulge, glass breaks and water drips. Structures shatter under pressure or collapse under their own weight.
For his third solo show at Maccarone, Tuazon turned his attention to images, which he likewise pushed to near disintegration. The exhibition consisted of a group of wall reliefs and freestanding sculptures produced by mounting large-scale color photos onto scavenged aluminum sheets, then running them through an industrial metal-bending machine.
The pictures, taken at night and already grainy and hard to make out, are further obscured by the traces of their manipulation—scuff marks, punctures, scratches and flurries of oily hand- and fingerprints. At times they are so dark and featureless it appears that the works are simply crumpled pieces of metal spray-painted black.
Even when they can be deciphered as photographs of something, the images for the most part remain sullenly uncommunicative, often consisting of only a wisp or flash of color, a subtle mottling of warmer black or a light trail of greenish white. A notable exception is a triptych of undamaged photographs of a condensation-fogged piece of glass—perhaps a car windshield. Here, the Turner-like hazes of soft color suggest a latent optimism.
Most pure are several entirely abstract works. In New York I (2011) the main event is a large, X-shaped fold, topped by a line of X-shaped scratches as delicate as cross-stitching, marking an otherwise undifferentiated black field. Paris (2011), bent to fit in a corner, contains an odd, flowerlike reflection produced by a bump in the work’s center crease.
Far more fascinating, however, are the pieces in which the work’s ruptured surface converses with a vestigial image. A diagonal crease bisects the photograph in Shuyak (2007-11). On one side is a haloed yellow orb, perhaps a street lamp. On the other, flickering dark blue shapes collect in the shadows where the light doesn’t reach. In La Push (2009-11) a ghostlike red form seems caught up in and held by the regularly spaced horizontal pleats that traverse its surface from top to bottom.
Freestanding works in which metal supports cross the faces of the photographs tend to be clunky. On the other hand, those sculptures whose angles allow them to stand on their own have a precarious grace, as with TBD (2011), whose verticality is emphasized by perpendicular creases and a flamelike ripple of rusty brown at its heart.
Tuazon’s constructions have in common with those of many of his peers a shabby materiality. Unlike some contemporary sculptures, however, his are neither provisional nor unheroic but emphatically physical. Unusually for this artist, many of the pieces in this exhibition also had a real, if accidental, beauty. At their best, Tuazon’s new photo-based works are dazzlers on the verge of a breakdown.
Photo: View of Oscar Tuazon’s exhibition “America is My Woman,” 2011; at Maccarone.