“Holding Pattern” at Susanne Vielmetter Projects
April 11 – May 23, 2009
Originally published in Artweek 40.5
On its face, Jedediah Caesar’s work seems engaged in revelation—cutting up objects to show us the parts we never see, gathering forgotten junk and rearranging it as sculpture, impelling us to re-examine cast-off matter. Following in the tradition of Process Art, in which the story of the work’s creation theoretically can be reconstructed by a thoughtful viewer, Caesar presents as artwork not only the end results of his by-now trademark procedure (pouring resin into a cardboard box or other container filled with various objects, then slicing the resin form with a band saw into different shapes), but also the intermediary steps. Two works in “Holding Station,” Caesar’s second solo exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Projects, consist of the resin-filled cardboard boxes themselves (2009, all works untitled). Then there are the sculptures of collected materials, everything from trellis pieces to piping, window frames to twigs, jutting up from their rectangular bases in rowdy spikes and angles. An unprocessed version of the embedded resin sculptures, these Constructivist-style structures have been spared a trip through the feed-tube of Minimalism, showing off their unruly uniqueness in the face of so many compressed, rearrangeable units.
But while Caesar’s practice borrows heavily from Process Art, attempt to fully reconstitute the origins behind Caesar’s resin sculptures and you will soon hit a wall. Sliced into cross-sections, the objects trapped in resin are rendered unrecognizable: In obsessively revealing their interiors, Caesar obscures their former identities to the point where they become abstractions. Indeed, cut into thin tiles and arrayed on the wall in diamond formations, in vertical towers, in checkerboard rectangles, the sculptures impersonate abstract paintings, and often lovely ones at that. One untitled 2008 work consisting of 30 roughly 1-foot square tiles seduces with shards of bright yellow, coral, and royal blue material punctuating marbled areas of black and grey, the yellow form existing at various points as a full circle and half circle, like a moon progressing through phases. And yet even at a time when painting encompasses so many diverse methods, these wall pieces are emphatically not paintings, not images, but things—conglomerations of matter.
The push-pull between showing and hiding in Caesar’s work sheds light on a gesture made by the artist in one of the gallery’s back spaces. Coming to the end of the exhibition, you encounter two plywood-backed resin panels, one propped against the wall, facing forward, the other lying facedown on the floor at an angle, as if it’s just fallen over. It seems like an accident, since it’s an anomaly in the show—but the arrangement is Caesar’s intention; the facedown work is actually face-up. On one hand it’s an act of exposure, granting the plain wooden support the same status as the material comprising the more detailed flip-side—and why not, since it’s all material. On the other hand, the effect on the viewer is that the “real” surface is being concealed. That both circumstances are true make this simple gambit unexpectedly odd and clever.
In fact, a similar shifty, unpindownable quality suffuses the entire exhibition, which seems at first glance like a mere straightforward progression of Caesar’s practice, offering up further iterations of resin and found-object sculptures. On one level it is that, but as the title, “Holding Station,” hints, it is also more, or maybe less. One wouldn’t know it without being tipped off or reading the press release, but it turns out that Caesar, who was included in the 2008 California Biennial and the 2008 Whitney Biennial, conceived the show as a sort of connector node branching out to his other works, with some of the sculptures in the exhibition created from “shells” of previous works or made of “remnants” of other sculptures also contained in “Holding Station.” Even with this knowledge, though, it’s difficult to deduce specific connections; the extent of the links, the big picture, must be known only to the artist. As with the obscured objects embedded in resin, here again Caesar provides all the pieces, but the prospect of reconstitution lies just beyond reach.