William Corwin at George and Jørgen
Extremely abstract installation work can be a tough beast to grapple with, but, well conceived, common themes and meanings can always emerge. This is very much the case as New York sculptor William Corwin holds his first London show under the title alans wood at George and Jørgen Gallery this month. The exhibition consists of two site-specific installations and a small collection of drawings and sculptures.
At first it’s hard to know what to make of all the crude shelves and boxes that stick out of the walls, but Corwin’s artwork slowly reveals a witty commentary on our habits of categorising and containing concepts in arbitrary ways.
The Last Judgement, which dominates most of the space, is based on the mosaic in the Cathedral of St Maria in Torcello, Venice. The original mural divides humanity into neat little compartments with the trinity and the angels above, then the saints, mortals and at the bottom, sinners. Corwin has constructed a similarly composed set of shelves, upon which he imposes his personal hierarchy of building materials: at the top, his divine plaster board, followed by uncut stone, geometrically moulded plaster, and then hand-painted rubble at the bottom. He says that this hierarchy is irrelevant, or at least impenetrable, as it means something only to him.
Corwin’s drawing also parodies man’s tendency to catalogue. His sketches record types of cloud, each one outlined by a square box, with overlaid Rorschach blots. The overlapping of these nebulous forms highlights the subjectivity of interpretation. “I’m sure these cloud types are useful to pilots and meteorologists,” Corwin explains, “but when you look up at the sky you see a cloud that maybe looks like a bus, or a train. Similarly you might see anything in a Rorschach blot, but on the back of the card it says that if you see an axe then you’re mental.”
Clearly the human instinct to find patterns and definitions, even in that which seems to be formless, as in a cloud, crowd or ink blot, is of great amusement to Corwin. The bureaucracy of both science and religion is made to look silly and awkward by his work. Diet of Worms sticks out into the centre of the room and The Last Judgement partitions off the empty back of the gallery like a rood screen in a church. The result is that gallery-goers have to navigate through awkward spaces and end up hemmed into the front of the room. Because there is nothing on the other side of The Last Judgement, that space is left uninhabited, and the viewers find themselves boxed in alongside the rest of the compartmentalised artwork. This very literal experience of partitioning mirrors the overall point that Corwin seems to be making.
Both George and Jørgen seem to have really enjoyed the show, partly because they helped to build a significant amount of the installations. George tells me that he finds the contrast with their last show particularly refreshing, and he’s pleased to see his small contribution on display. As a viewer, I too am enthused by their participation, and would recommend a peek if you come by. It may take some time to get the joke, but when you do, it more than rewards the effort.
William Corwin – alans wood is at George and Jørgen until 2nd April 2011.
Published on Spoonfed.co.uk