I wrote below that the Cerith Wyn Evans exhibit at the MFA was ho-hum and with a lot of filler. It is, but the presence of the really fun mirror and the fact that the artist seems to be a serious and decent guy make me not want to be too harsh about it. Still, the whole thing – or the half thing, as there is a companion show across the Charles at MIT – felt empty, or unfulfilled.
Aside from the mirror, the main installation consists of seven chandeliers, all from different periods, pulsing out in Morse code fragments from different texts selected by the artist, which can be read on monitors mounted on the walls. The overall effect is mildly diverting, especially when the room is dark. The light flashes across the room, in some areas lingering long, in others bursting staccato. It’s neat for about two minutes. After that, nothing to do but go and dutifully inspect the texts. One is from Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover – an inspiration for Wyn Evans – another goes on about Judith Butler, while the others . . .are about other things. I suppose it didn’t help that the monitors had pop-up boxes warning that Windows had insufficient virtual memory. One couldn’t help but feel a deflationary effect.
Part of the conceit of the chandeliers installation is that the lights are communicating to each other in some sort of unknown language. But it’s not some other language, it’s Morse. And while the play of light is pleasing for a moment or two, it’s not enough to support all of the accompanying theoretical freight. Or rather, all of the seriousness displayed regarding texts and communications ought to result in something more impressive in order to make the viewer want to bother with it.
A whole room is given over to photographs taken by Wyn Evans’s late father. They’re not bad, I suppose, but not terribly interesting in themselves. The exhibition text makes some highly serious argument about appropriation and the like, but the artist’s own explanation is simpler and more affecting: “'This is me playing curator with my dad's work; he never would have had a show in such an august institution’”. Admirable filial sentiments aside, however, there’s not much here.
One of the least impressive displays consists of a portion of old coaxial cable in a vitrine. Wyn Evans evidently found the cable in storage at MIT and believes to be a portion of the cable over which phone calls by Marcel Duchamp were carried during his stay in the U.S. Perhaps, perhaps not. The curator of the exhibition argues for the cable as a sort of Duchampian readymade, an ordinary object transformed by its selection and inclusion in an art context. Normally I’d just mutter “whatever,” and walk on – unearned Duchamp comparisons are not exactly new – but here I had to stop to question whether the curator actually understood the readymade. After all, the key point is that they were not museum objects but deeply prosaic parts of the world made art by being intentionally inserted into the space of art. But Wyn Evans has an explanation for the significance of the cable, it even came out of storage – this is an historical object that already belongs in a certain sort of museum: a very boring one.
Wyn Evans comes off as an affable guy, and the mirror (which I gather was part of the infamous Sensation! exhibit at Brooklyn) really is great, but overall this is a pretty thin show. I won’t be going to the other exhibition at MIT – ever since I spent some time working at the Media Lab years ago I’ve had an aversion to their List Art Center. So it’s good that the MFA includes with the Wyn Evans a selection of minimalist paintings and sculpture from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, which works beautifully. After diving into the mirror, Ross Bleckner and Bridget Riley are just the thing.