WM | contemporary art magazine whitehot
L. Brandon Krall: Sui Generis: Alphabetical paintings and other objects
April 28 to May 29, 2021
By ERIK LA PRADE, May 2021
The current exhibition of works by artist L. Brandon Krall at the Steven Harvey Gallery, 208 Forsyth Street (a three-minute walk from the New Museum), includes six geometric abstract paintings, a number of “modified reproductions” and “readymades” recalling the work of Marcel Duchamp. Copying from the work of other artists as a means of learning and discovering one’s own style is a centuries-old tradition in the visual arts, and to a large extent the question of influence is the subtext of this exhibition.
July 28, 2021 will mark the 134e birthday of Marcel Duchamp. The influence of Marcel Duchamp, embodied by the term “ready-made”, seems inevitable today. Duchamp used this word to describe his selection of manufactured objects such as works of art and it is a fundamental term in the vocabulary of 20e art of the century. I recently interviewed researcher, critic and writer Francis M. Naumann about Duchamp’s influence:
Historically, Duchamp’s influence was at its peak from 1955 to 1968 (the year of his death) when he was first recognized by Johns and Rauschenberg, Cage and Cunningham. It reappeared for another decade in the heyday of conceptual art in the 1970s and then again in the 1980s in the era of appropriationists … I guess you could say it hit a new peak today with artists like Jeff Koons and Ai Weiwei, both openly recognize the important priority of his work over theirs (1).
The years “from 1955 to 1968” also saw the rise of Fluxus, an artistic movement which embodied the influence of Duchamp and the idea of “readymades”. Fluxus evolved in the late 1950s, similar to another style of art known as Neo-Dada. But while Neo-Dada was one of the first names in Pop Art, Fluxus has been similar to Dada in its use of anti-art ideas and absurd events.
Artist L. Brandon Krall openly acknowledges Duchamp’s influence on her work and, more importantly, brings her sense of humor and understanding of her heritage to her own pieces. Ms Krall is not only a practicing artist, she is also a published Duchamp scholar, who incorporates her historical ideas about her work into her own “readymades” (or “sculptural ObjectsAs she calls them), abstract paintings and “modified reproductions”. Like some of Duchamp’s works, the art in this exhibition is also based on words and language. This functionality is not intended to interfere with the visual experience of the work; Krall wants to encourage you to think about what you are looking at, “to activate your gray matter,” as she told me recently.
Upon entering the Steven Harvey Gallery, one encounters a four foot high table to the right, spanning the area in front of the window. A number of small “ready-made” sculptures are placed on top of the table, including a clear plastic box containing ice tongs and a rotating metal spiral that spins when you push it (called a billon tower, which translates to “dust whirlwind”). Attached to the top of this spiral sculpture is a drawing. There is also a sculpture made of a wooden base with a number of four inch metal spikes affixed to it, such as those placed on window sills to deter pigeons.
Between these “readymades” are notebooks stacked in stacks of three or four, and clear plastic folders containing loose pages of handwritten notes and seemingly random magazine pages. Within this grouping is a cardboard box containing nine loose photographs reproduced on card stock, each image being altered by a colored line the artist has drawn on it. These are described as “modified reproductions”. In addition, there is a white loose-leaf folder containing material on Duchamp’s work. Pharmacy. There are also pages referring to his art such as an advertisement for a stereoscope, a portable 3D device for viewing slides. These works also refer to Duchamp The Box-in-Suitcase (Box in a suitcase), a work created between 1936-1941 and made up of numerous reproductions of Duchamp’s works in miniature. But in this case, Krall ended the suitcase and placed his version of its contents on top of the table, all the while leading us through his journey on the Duchamp purse whether we wanted to be there or not. The works presented on this painting – “ready-made”, “modified reproductions”, hastily written notes and reminders, etc. – reflect the artist’s life on certain days or months of a given year. But they also reflect our collective 21st century life in its time-oriented physicality and rushed lifestyles.
Krall avoids appropriating original works but clearly plays with the concept of appropriation in two other works in this show. Mounted on a Pedestal is a ‘modified reproduction’ of a 1923 work by Man Ray, Work to be destroyed (a metronome with a photograph of Lee Miller’s eye attached to the metal pendulum). In Krall’s ‘modified reproduction’, she attached a photograph of a person’s nose to the pendulum and titled it, Trompe Nez, (Cheat the nose). In the middle of the gallery, Krall recreated Duchamp’s 1913 readymade, Bicycle wheel. In its version, it added two small bells, of the kind one finds on the handlebars of a bicycle. The bells – each engraved with the words “Habeas corpus”, a Latin phrase meaning “to show the body” – sit on a small plastic display. Under this Krall has placed an artist’s palette. Under the stool on which Bicycle wheel mounted is a box of clear plastic sunglasses, a work titled 3-D, another reference to Stereoscopy, a “ready-made” Duchamp created around 1918-1919. Krall’s interpretation of Duchamp’s bicycle wheel with its references to other “readymades” is a good example of what artist Mike Bidlo told me about his work: “L. Brandon Krall is a child of Dada, who often uses past art history as a springboard for the realization of her extraordinary contemporary work.
Krall’s scientific interest in Duchamp is evidenced by a series of essays she wrote over a period of ten years. One essay in particular, “DA VINCI DUCHAMP, mime”, published in November 2018, presents a scholarly comparison between the two artists. During his Duchamp research, Krall made an important discovery: that the cover of the first volume of a series of children’s books published at the turn of the century, Funny Science by Tom Tit, was similar to the cover of the 1945 issue of VIEW magazine. While the cover of the children’s book shows a jet of sparks coming from the mouth of a bottle, the cover of VIEW the magazine shows a plume of smoke rising from the mouth of a bottle. This particular question of VIEW, is known as Duchamp’s issue and was the first published monograph on his work.
The next part of this exhibition, a group of six paintings entitled Alphabetical equivalents, were painted from 1979 to 1980, when the artist moved to New York City, and during a period when Neo-Expressionism demanded attention. “I think painting is a geometric abstraction,” the artist told me. “Originally there were twenty-six paired wedge shapes to design a geometric abstract painting alphabet of ideas. . . word roots and include MU and MA as subjects ”(2). One painting in the exhibition is titled MU, defined as “without or nothing”, a Japanese concept of time and space. Another painting is titled Passus, which means “passage in time”. I struggled to understand the esoteric guidelines used by Krall to create these geometric paintings. Although I can see how the influence of Duchamp’s use of the pun in his titles may have influenced his use of words based in different languages. These “letter forms” in the paintings are difficult to decipher, and Krall’s attempt to equate language with forms diminishes the power these paintings might have had on their own.
However, two of these paintings seem to stand out as purely visual works. The artist considers Principium, made in the 1980s, to be a transitional painting. It is a geometric abstraction on which a cubist figure is drawn. The title means “origin” or “beginning” and Krall seems to make a link between his first painting and that of Duchamp. Nude descending a staircase. By combining these two works and historical periods, Krall demonstrates his strength. The second table titled MEN’S (meaning “spirit”), consists of two canvases sewn together in the middle of the image, leaving an inch of the glued canvas where the two pieces meet. It presents us with a visual metaphor of the mind. This painting has a Dada quirk that I like both visually and conceptually.
Overall, the physical objects in this exhibition reveal Krall’s strength as an artist as they present his historical take on the works of an artist as complex as Marcel Duchamp, while his sense of humor Dadaist is evident in several of his paintings. WM
1. Email exchange with Francis Naumann. 05/09/21
2. L. Brandon Krall // MY WORK. Artist’s website.