“Monuments,” organized by the British curator Mark Sladen, considers the contemporary role of monuments and the monumental through video, sculpture and works on paper. The artists are an international crew: Pablo Bronstein, Iman Issa, Aleksandra Mir, Yorgos Sapountzis and Danh Vo, apart from Mir (b. 1967) all in their 30s. The exhibition responds to its site and the tradition of stately gardens and homes on which successive generations of landowners leave their mark. The historic setting of Lismore Castle, parts of which date back to the 10th century, is anything but a tabula rasa for the art on view.
The gallery is located in an auxiliary building adjoining the castle wall, in a neutrally converted space. All but one of the works are displayed here, the exception being a piece by Bronstein; however, an installation by Berlin-based Greek artist Sapountzis consists of the remnants of his performance Castle Knots and Animals (2013), which took place on the grounds during the opening in April. A messy collection of aluminum and bamboo poles, vinyl sheets, ropes and banners covered with photocopied photographs is propped against a wall. At the opening, a group of actors carrying these props followed the artist around the elegant surroundings, as did the audience, some of whom had been given cloaks to wear for the occasion. Periodically, Sapountzis halted as if unsure of himself, enigmatically undermining his position as leader. A further unsettling matter was the contrast between the tall banners and the subjects in the photographs they bore, among them diminutive china dogs and bronze horses from the private collections housed within the castle. These leftovers of the performance do little to evoke the past event, but seem somehow celebratory, as if saying cheerfully, “You missed it, but it was good!”
Egyptian artist Issa’s “Material” sculptures draw on a similar sense of the absurd. The exhibition includes two objects from this 2009-12 series, each of which is, as its title suggests, a “proposal” embodying the inherent irony of monuments built to last despite changing times. One of these, Material for a sculpture proposed as an alternative to a monument that has become an embarrassment to its people (2010), consists of a wooden table structure on which two white spherical lights, each about 8 inches tall, brighten and dim in turn.
The long main space is dominated by sections of Vo’s huge (and much-exhibited) piece We The People (2011-13), which re-creates in copper the Statue of Liberty in disjointed, life-size parts. The Argentine artist Bronstein contributes some works on paper in the same space, but it is his Pavilion (2013) that steals the show. A site-specific work placed in the castle’s densely planted walled upper garden, it is a few minutes’ walk from the gallery. Traversing grass and gravel paths, visitors follow a map to the site, and note from a short distance (with some frustration) scaffolding partially obscuring a tower. Only when nearly upon it do they realize that the tower is, in fact, an extraordinarily simple but effective illusion, which the artist created by stretching behind the scaffolding a vinyl sheet printed with a few architectural details. Thus the artist toys with our expectations of a modern stately home, where owners struggle to preserve tradition while trying to make their assets generate income. It is a sleight of hand that chimes well with the current state of the economy.