Roxy Paine at Marianne Boesky: The Raw Spectacle of Wood

"Denuded Lens" seems a little hollow, but maybe there's a message there.

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Roxy Paine, Checkpoint (2014)
Photo courtesy of Marianne Boesky
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Roxy Paine, Checkpoint (2014), detail
Photo courtesy of Marianne Boesky
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Roxy Paine, Checkpoint (2014), detail
Photo by Ben Davis
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Roxy Paine, Intrusion (2014)
Photo by Ben Davis
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Roxy Paine, Speech Impediment (2014)
Photo by Ben Davis
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Roxy Paine, Machine of Indeterminacy (2014)
Photo courtesy of Marianne Boesky
Roxy Paine, Machine of Indeterminacy (2014), detail
Photo courtesy of Marianne Boesky
Roxy Paine, Scrutiny (2014)
Photo courtesy of Marianne Boesky
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Roxy Paine, Intrusion(2014), detail
Photo by Ben Davis

SHOWSTOPPER: You’d have to have a heart of the hardest, most impossible-to-carve stone not to think the sculptures in Roxy Paine’s new show “Denuded Lens,” are at least cool. The centerpiece of the Brooklyn-based sculptor’s gallery exhibition, an installation called Checkpoint (2014), is a marvel, a fantastically detailed rendering of an airport checkpoint, everything from the garbage cans to the scanner machine carved in fluent detail out of maple wood, so pale and perfect that it seems apparitional. What’s more, the whole tableau is actually just about 15 feet deep, but from the correct angle it comes together into a plunging space that appears much, much deeper. Upon inspection, you realize that this effect is achieved through distortion: The wooden objects inside Checkpoint are actually squashed and flattened wooden facsimiles, and those objects at the far end of the space are rendered much smaller than they appear—feats achieved through computer modelling. Making this most hated of contemporary locales into an object of wonder is on the order of making Google Glass look cool, but Paine does it.

VAGUE IDEAS: But are these hyper-detailed sculptures, for lack of a better term, a little wooden? Checkpoint is amusing and expertly pulled off—if Paine’s sculptural concoctions look like magic from afar, up close you see how he uses the intricacies of the wood grain to expert effect—but there’s not a ton to say about it besides just that. Another work, Intrusion (2014), is a life-size pinball machine, its insides filled with a craggy granite landscape (rendered in wood) rather than bumpers, flippers, and the familiar kit. This is meant to say something about the clash of two types of time, geologic “deep time” and … the time it takes to get multiball? Intrusion has the character of a random 3 a.m. Deep Thought rendered in lavish sculptural form, its hyperreal detail not matched by a detailed idea.

SECRET MESSAGE: Yet, that exact sense of vagueness may be the starting point for something else, an important point that can be whittled out of it all. Another sculpture, Scrutiny (2014), features an examination table and a swarm of optical devices, all frozen in wood—cameras, microscopes, lights—and all trained on an empty space at the table’s center. Machine of Indeterminacy (2014) is a boxy contraption whose lovingly carved tubes, levers, and screens don’t seem to match up or fit together to any real purpose. There’s something here that amounts to a theme about sophisticated technological processes with nothing to justify them. It’s a message that seems both half-accidental and half-intended, but the sculptures in “Denuded Lens” ultimately do seem to be in some way about how the contemporary ability to make cool things has progressed much faster than the ability to know what exactly to do or say with it.

Roxy Paine, “Denuded Lens” is on view at Marianne Boesky Gallery through October 18, 2014.


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