Douglas Huebler, Sherrie Levine, Walid Raad
No More Than Three Other Times
521 W 21st Street
No More Than Three Other Times brings together three generations of conceptual artists whose work explores the slippage between image and text, or image and sign, variously using reflexivity, repetition, and documentary practices. The title is taken from an unintentional misreading of a work by Douglas Huebler, and is indicative of the ways in which the artworks in the exhibition creatively engage with historical and material facts.
Douglas Huebler is known for his work combining carefully chosen, simple descriptive language with other materials, such as photographs, drawings, and maps, to wryly deconstruct the ways meaning is derived from visual information. In a focused selection of works from the 1970s, minimal abstractions are paired with instructive texts that suggest the viewer read the groups of lines or blocks of color not as flat images, but elements in a structure that expands through space along, behind, and beyond the gallery walls. The language playfully exaggerates almost to the point of incongruity the self-referentiality of the minimal art object. These lesser-known works are complemented by an exemplary photographic collage from Huebler’s celebrated Duration Piece series.
Sherrie Levine’s White Mirrors are pointedly self-referential in their refusal to reflect their surroundings. Denied their true purpose as objects, the mirrors become blank surfaces that invite a critical engagement with their physical presence. Two sculptures cast from found objects are imbued with a fetishistic desire that manifests in their highly polished surfaces. A light bulb reproduced in stainless steel epitomizes this transformation of the quotidian, while a bronze parrot references Félicité, a character in a story by Gustave Flaubert who endlessly displaces her affections before finally settling on a bird named Loulou, who she stuffs and continues to adore after its death. Levine exacerbates the tension between the original and the reproduction by producing these works in editions that are frequently displayed together, challenging the significance of authenticity and singularity in art.
Sweet Talk by Walid Raad is a set of self-assigned photographic commissions that study the city of Beirut. In plates designed to resemble the layout of an art historical textbook, documentary-style streetscapes captioned with meticulous museological cataloguing record the city’s physical transformation during the protracted wars. In other works, Raad appeals to the aesthetic of the archive to complicate the relationship between image and text. In a new body of work made similarly beguiling through the illusion of coffee-stained and crumpled pages, anatomical drawings of birds are paired with maps. Against a backdrop of unannotated graphs and directionless arrows, the images gesture to the use of birds as weapons of biological warfare, pointing to specific truths through the juxtaposition of otherwise arbitrary signs.