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.
Oscar Tuazon inaugurated Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling’s new gallery in scrappy Belleville, arguably the hottest art district in town, with a solo show provocatively titled “Ass to Mouth.” The gallery is just down the road from the space the young dealers used to share with the influential collective Castillo/Corrales, co-founded by Tuazon in 2007. The American artist, more of a wanderer than a true expatriate, has been warmly welcomed in Paris—he is a nominee for the prestigious Prix Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, sponsored by the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Pernod-Ricard spirits company, which donates 10,000 euros (about $15,000) to enable the Pompidou’s purchase of a work by the laureate. Tuazon has cemented his reputation locally and internationally with brute, sculptural works he coaxes out of building materials and that either verge on architecture or have a strong architectural impact on the spaces they inhabit.
It was possible to overlook Not Titled Yet (2009), which stood in the narrow entry-cum-office parallel to the plate glass storefront. This simple L-shaped sculpture is fabricated out of a sturdy vertical tree branch bolted to a wooden plank. Together they just barely straddle a hollow, horizontal metal base that holds the two components in equilibrium. To say the work is reminiscent of lovers embracing, the cylindrical head of the branch leaning in to kiss the flat face of the plank, would be far too sentimental; to say the work is totemic, far too connotative of Tuazon’s native Pacific Northwest. Not Titled Yet feels both permanent and provisional, mastered and thrown together from materials at hand, like a homesteader’s marker that stakes a claim.
A serious ratcheting up of tension occurred in the main gallery with the room-size installation Ass to Mouth, titled after the slang for anal-to-oral sex. Ass to Mouth is composed of two rectangular elements: a broad, shallow slab of concrete on the floor and a steel frame, stretched with translucent plastic sheeting and patched with electrical and packing tape, which was hung from the ceiling and hovered like an off-center canopy over the concrete, not unlike Richard Serra’s mammoth steel Delineator (1974-75). Visible from below, slick pools of water trapped in the plastic leaked rust-tinged liquid onto the concrete slab, resulting in muddy foot tracks in the narrow path around it. The dampness, coupled with the gallery’s harsh fluorescent lighting, brought electrocution to mind, and this, along with the distinct sense that the weight of the frame might suddenly fracture the single beam onto which it clung, heightened one’s bodily awareness of the work and surrounding space. Whether the idea of ass-to-mouth turns you on or turns you off, Tuazon’s title is a perfect metaphor for the terribly pleasurable and wholly discomfiting physicality of this large-scale sculptural environment. Here, Tuazon’s work surpassed occupying the gallery; it actually possessed it.
Photo: Oscar Tuazon: Ass to Mouth, 2009, steel, Plexiglas, plastic, tape, water and concrete; at Balicehertling.