Marc Kokopeli, 90% Years Later at Lomex Gallery, New York
“Nothing is more real than nothing.“ Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies, 1956
Nothing is harder to describe than nothing. Such is the happy paradox in writing about Marc Kokopeli’s pieces/sculptures/installations at Lomex Gallery. Even with (or in spite of) the conversation Kokopeli and I had one recent evening, not knowing what his objects “really” are and what they “really” mean is particularly and unusually satisfying.
“In most modern instances,” to quote Susan Sontag, “interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.”
Kokopeli’s works are wonderments. You respect them for being, and that is enough. This is unusual in our current commercial context awash in sameness: post-Disney neo-surrealism, decorator-abstraction and gender-nongender-racial-nonracial-“realness.” In her essay “Against Interpretation,” Sontag continued, “a great deal of today’s art may be understood as motivated by a flight from interpretation. To avoid interpretation art may become parody. Or it may become abstract. Or it may become (“merely”) decorative. Or it may become non-art.”
Kokopeli invites you to think about his works and the questions of how one looks at art.
You enter the gallery directly into an installation of architectural intervention. A single, dimly lit “display case” houses two works in mixed media. The case has a genuine, soft focus appeal of an abandoned European store window display. It is critical to let your eyes adjust, and look carefully at the details from a few different vantage points. The display case is neighbored by a faux window shaped like a truncated polyhedron.
Next, leaning against the wall in the adjoining passage, are machined pieces of wood—like children’s toy blocks—that are joined as one. It rests on the floor like an abandoned sigil, a symbol from the occult or modern-day chaos magick. It is a pleasant, if not friendly, soothing object.
The largest space of the installation’s reconfiguration of the gallery houses several works. First, there are the intrusive backsides of the two “windows,” first seen when entering the gallery. The backside construction technique looks makeshift. It is calculated in its rawness and lack of finish. On one structure, two paintings are attached. They are modest inverted triangles; they too have a sigil vibe or maybe a shuriken, a Japanese hand blade “throwing star”.
Another piece is an untitled video monitor work that somehow manages to trigger thoughts of Marcel Duchamp’s peepholes perspective of his Étant donnés (1946-1966) and Seth Price’s Digital Video Effect: “Spills” (2004). It seems familiar yet different.
Lastly, there is a purpose-built wood, brass and steel door that, when closed and bolted, can safely secure the gallery visitor from the gallerist—Alexander Shulan. It looks like a prop from a medieval gaol (jail) recreated for a Florida theme park. The door sculpture looks authentically antique on one side and obviously recently constructed on the other side, just as the two “window” structures at the gallery’s entry have both finished and raw architectural perspectives.
There are only a small number of artists of any age who have the capability to slow you down, make you think and feel a little nervous. Kokopeli succeeds on all three fronts.