The Great Hall Exhibition
Walead Beshty at The Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, James B Duke House
Walead Beshty's assemblage of objects, placed within New York University's Institute of Fine Arts in New York City, within The Great Hall Exhibition series, strike an uncanny tone. In the show, seven works – five of which are from the same series – are dotted around the ground floor of this grand, and certainly great hall: an early 20th century mansion modeled after an eighteenth century French hotel, the Chateau Labottiere for the American tobacco magnate and millionaire James B. Duke, who gifted the building to New York University in 1952.
Anachronism abounds in Beshty's intervention into this historical space. Each work in the exhibition is concerned with the production and dissemination of the image, through the reconsideration, mistreatment, tinkering, and reassembling of the apparatuses of image making, from the LED screen, to the inkjet printer and the Fed-Ex boxes that so often transport images – or image making devices – between places. Further, Beshty presents an assortment of deconstructed, bashed and broken twenty-first century objects that jar with their grandiose setting. In Samsung UN75H6350 75-inch 120Hz Smart LED TV (2015), for instance, an LED screen is disfigured by a gaping hole, though the rest of the screen still emits light, revealing beguiling fracked lines of coloured pixels on the effected surface. In HP Photo Smart C6280 ALL-In-ONE (2014), situated at the foot of an imposing staircase, a printer has been pulled apart and assembled on a metal pole like a totem. A bit more description. The piece is plugged into the mains and remarkably still 'works' – although contrary to Canon's intent – components whirr, stutter, move and are illuminated. But the only image this object produces is its own; an impaled domestic technology in the throes of an endless death, its death rattle giving way to more timid coughs and splutters.
The exhibition, which is untitled, was organized by two Masters students on the institute of Fine Arts programme at NYU: Rachel Heidendry and Eloise Maxwell, and it is the fifth exhibition in The Great Hall Exhibition series since its inauguration in 2013. In the entranceway, one is met by two works, Samsung UN75H6350 75-inch 120Hz Smart LED TV (2015) and the cumbersomely titled FedEx® Kraft Box ©2005 FEDEX 330504 10/05 SSCC, Priority Overnight, Los Angeles-Miami trk#865344981303, October 29–30, 2008, Priority Overnight, Miami-Ann Arbor trk#861049125148, March 3–4, 2009, Standard Overnight, Ann Arbor-Los Angeles trk#868274625716, July 9–10, 2009, Standard Overnight, Los Angeles-New York trk#774901718297, November 4–5, 2015 (2008). The former work consists of a flat screen TV hung portrait on the left wall, with a large circular hole cut out of the centre. The latter sits to the right of the screen: a damaged glass plinth sat atop a similarly tatty FedEx box. The titles of the FedEx pieces, though awkward, reveal the readymade aspect of the work, and detail the processes to which the work has been subjected. A plinth/box, such as was on display here either in clear or semi-opaque glass, is made to the dimensions of a specific FedEx package, and then sent by the artist to his gallery by FedEx. Each time the work is shown the title has the next FedEx itinerary added to it. The journey of the glass plinth box is then 'written' into the surface of the box and the cardboard packaging (as well as the title); every knock, drop and scrape is registered on both elements, and creates unique cracks and patterns on and through the surface of the glass.
Thus the titles of each work becomes a poetic meandering on the path each piece has taken, with tracking numbers and airport names that testify to the route, and possibly the location that each mark was made. Beshty has long been concerned with photography, although his work, for the most part does not look like that of a photographer's. Photography here becomes read in its most elementary terms, the register of light and other environmental factors on a reactive surface. The FedEx series is therefore photography abstracted, and made most physical. The images placed within the great hall are three-dimensional surfaces that denote the marks of the environment and their movement through space, and similarly reflect and refract light in their exhibited state. To this end, Beshty offers his viewers the license to rethink what constitutes photography, and how the environment leaves its mark on materials; whether the relic of an empire accumulated by the Duke family or an object handled by countless couriers, aircraft, and vehicles: the invisible hands of both power and labour that constitute the global infrastructures of exchange.