The FLAG Art Foundation is pleased to present ON BOARD THE SHIPS AT SEA ARE WE on view February 23-May 18, 2019 on its 9th floor. The exhibition situates four artworks in a surreal dialogue that shifts viewers’ perceptions of scale, materiality, and the physical absence of the body. The exhibition presents Robert Therrien’s monumental No title (table and six chairs), 2003, alongside Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (Pair),1999, a duo of interlocking, cast mortuary slabs, and includes two wall-sized text works by Lawrence Weiner: A MIRROR SCRATCHED AT THE BRIEF POINT TWIXT SILVER BLACK WHERE THE IMAGE TURNS TO RETURN TO SENDER, and a newly-created aphorism* (from which the show takes its title) that is the artist’s personal response to the current refugee crisis.
Through the physical and psychological experience of encountering Robert Therrien’s sculpture of familiar domestic objects—a dining room table and chairs magnified three times and towering over ten feet tall—visitors surrender their bearings, succumbing to the nostalgia of childhood and the perspective of hiding under the table in a fantastical world. The artist creates the illusion of traditional wood grain furniture through trompe-l’œil painting technique that disguises the table’s steel and aluminum construction (weighing over 5,000lbs). Every presentation of this particular Therrien work conjures a slightly different narrative; in this exhibition, the six chairs akimbo might call to mind a dinner party hastily departed.
Rachel Whiteread’s minimalist, gloss white sculptures Untitled (Pair), 1999, extend Therrien’s interest in materiality and the memory of the body. Sensual, ethereal, and somewhat ambiguous in form, these complementary works recall mortuary slabs, originally designed to display, capture, and drain bodily fluids. Cast from one other in bronze—one slightly concave, one convex—the works (in theory) would interlock and complete one other.
Lawrence Weiner, one of the forerunners of Conceptual art, contributes two iconic wall-sized typographic texts to the exhibition: one on the opening wall, the other on its reverse. A MIRROR SCRATCHED AT THE BRIEF POINT TWIXT SILVER BLACK WHERE THE IMAGE TURNS TO RETURN TO SENDER, executed in chrome lettering outlined in black, both reflects and obscures the Therrien and Whiteread sculptures across from it, uniting all three artists in the exhibition.
Weiner draws subtle distinctions on his monochromatic text-based works, considering some minimalist sculptures and others aphorisms*, including his new work ON BOARD THE SHIPS AT SEA ARE WE. Though the artist’s personal intention for this piece was to be a response to the current refugee crisis, like all his text-based works that evokes ideas and places, it engages viewers to generate their own visions, associations, and interpretations.