Ceal Floyer: Trickster artist brings conceptual works to Aspen Art Museum
If You Go …
What: Ceal Floyer exhibition
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Through Jan. 22, 2017
How much: Free
More info: www.aspenartmuseum.org
At first glance, you might think the Aspen Art Museum has gone to seed this fall. A mouse has dug a hole for itself in a foyer wall. A custodian has left a garbage bag sitting in a gallery. They’re advertising specials on a sidewalk chalkboard.
Truth be told, the museum is doing just fine. But the mischievous Ceal Floyer is having some fun with the place.
The mouse hole, the garbage bag, the chalkboard and a host of other tricks are part of a solo show by the British artist, collecting works from 1993 to 2016 and running through Jan. 22 on the museum’s ground floor.
Notions of formal analysis and aesthetic beauty have no place here.
“It is the idea of what it is,” museum director Heidi Zuckerman said during a walkthrough last month. “This is conceptual art at its most essential.”
Things are slightly off in Floyer’s world, and just a little out of place. Initially, you get the feeling you’re not really in on the joke. The chalkboard outside reads “Today’s Special,” but isn’t a come-on for the day’s deals in the museum restaurant — it’s a declaration: “Today is special” (the other side reads “Tomorrow is Another Day”). There’s a welcome mat on the inside of a gallery rather than on the outside, welcoming you to leave. There’s a pair of scissors in a case on a pedestal, which also appear out of place, until you notice the broken lines running along the gallery wall behind it — like in a child’s cut-out instructions — which, it turns out, run along the edges of the entire gallery, inviting us to cut it out. Bars have been installed on the inside of the floor-to-ceiling window looking out on Hyman Avenue, like those you usually see on street level of crime-heavy areas.
Floyer’s works are more than visual gags, though. There are often layers of tickery going on. Take “Bucket,” for example. It’s a bucket, yes; a simple plastic one. There’s a speaker inside, which is plugged into an outlet on a long cord. The speaker occasionally plays a sound. The sound suggests a drop of water falling into the bucket (a “drop in the bucket” — see what she did there?). And yet, why expose the plug rather than give us aural illusion? And is that sound really a recording of water dropping into a bucket?
“It’s not a recording of a drop. … It’s purely because of a combination of what it says it is and what it looks like and what the sound means,” Floyer explained at the walkthrough. “It’s two and two equals five.”
The most straightforward of the works is “Solo,” which positions a hair brush in a microphone stand and formalizes the near-universal private experience of singing into a brush.
She thinks of her “Garbage Bag” as more transgressive than other pieces in the show. The exciting thing about the piece, for Floyer, is that to figure out whether it’s a piece of art or just garbage waiting to go to the curb, a viewer would have to break the first rule of museum-going and touch the artwork.
“The only way to find out for themselves is to give it a poke,” she said with a smirk.
When they do, she said, they’ll find the bag is filled with nothing but air.
Her work also can be confounding. When the walk-through stopped at Floyer’s “Door,” in which a projector creates light at the bottom of a doorway, Zuckerman turned to Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan and asked what he thought was going on in the piece.
“I have no idea,” he said with a laugh.
The idea of projection runs as a motif through the show. Along with the optical illusion of light from another room in “Door,” the show includes “Projection,” which projects an image of a nail sticking out of a wall, and “Untitled Credit Roll,” which silently scrolls a movie’s end credits with all of the names and titles blurred out.
The projection pieces have something to say to one another and maybe there’s something at work here about projecting preconceived notions or prejudices. What it is, of course, Floyer isn’t exactly saying.
“As an artist, the artwork isn’t finished until it’s in the world; it’s completion happens on its way out of the studio door,” she said in the museum’s gallery guide for her show. “I wouldn’t show certain works of mine alongside others, because I just know they’ll have lazy conversations.”
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