Opening January 22 and on view through February 16, this marks the artist’s first exhibition at the gallery’s Upper East Side location, and coincides with an installation of recent works at Lever House on Park Avenue, which runs January 30 through May 2019.
The new series at Petzel represents an evolution for McEwen, expanding his practice into more prosaic, but also more challenging, territory. The works unpack and activate McEwen’s signature graphite sculptures, which are here mounted on rough plywood faced with aluminum and coated with an image of the subjects of the sculptures themselves.
The objects present in McEwen’s assemblages are so ubiquitous one’s associations are likely to go beyond the physical or aesthetic. Banal, familiar, verging on the outdated and abject, they are nonetheless freighted—differently for each viewer—with the charge of recognition. Here, shot in the artist’s studio using materials at hand as backdrop, items that were used by McEwen for the purposes of creating precise, digital models for their graphite doppelgängers—a thermostat, a hotel door handle with card reader, a Styrofoam food tray—return and compete as subjects in two dimensions. Shifting moments, captured under the flash of an iPhone, are reduced to halftone transparencies and layered in vibrating triads of reds, violets and acid greens.
McEwen’s graphite sculptures are three-dimensional drawings of the idea of a thing. These combinatory works try to press one kind of looking onto another, disentangling the slippage between a fractured and cinematic view of the object-as-experienced and the material object as a physical ideal. By contrasting these photographs of momentary reality with a seamless Platonic form, McEwen lays out his thought process, bringing the viewer into consideration of the object and of the confused and complex moment of its apprehension.
McEwen’s work, Roberta Smith wrote in The New York Times, “has a streamlined intelligence, attention to detail and austere beauty that make it seem transparent yet mysterious, straightforward yet perverse.”
It has been shown in major museum exhibitions around the world, including the 2006 Whitney Biennial, “Into Me/Out of Me,” MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2006), “Beg, Borrow and Steal,” Rubell Family Collection, Miami (2009), “Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010, traveled to Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain), “The Last Newspaper,” New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2010), “America Is Hard to See,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015), and “Adam McEwen: I Think I’m in Love,” Aspen Art Museum (2016).