Travelling from its original incarnation in Le Consortium, Dijon, in June 2016, Wade Guyton’s solo exhibition at MAMCO in Geneva is his first institutional show of new work after a three-year hiatus. As often happens when an artist takes a pause following a period of intense production and activity, Guyton turned his focus to his immediate surroundings. The result is a series that takes as its motif a snapshot from the artist’s studio showing two of Guyton’s earlier works: Untitled Action Sculpture (Chair) (2001), a sculpture made out of the contorted chrome support of a Marcel Breuer chair, and a recent ‘Black’ painting. This casual photo, full of narrative incident, brackets 15 years of Guyton’s production and as such strikes a stark contrast with the endgame blankness of the ‘Black’ paintings he made for his last show at Kunsthalle Zurich in 2013.
On the first floor of MAMCO’s repurposed industrial building – which Guyton has had stripped of partition walls to leave a broad, open, window-lined space – the works are installed in groups according to scale. Guyton has subjected the show’s central studio image to his typical treatment: it has been printed on a canvas folded along its vertical axis then fed through a large-scale Epson ink-jet printer. The result is a photo on canvas printed in two vertical sections joined by a central seam, which align more or less accurately. Across variously sized canvases, the same image appears alternately divided, staggered, repeated, printed in different degrees of degradation or colour saturation, upright or on its side. This series is punctuated by other untitled works (all from 2015 or 2016). Some depict Guyton’s studio floor, rendered in Rothko-esque burgundy reds with bright blue patches. (The glimpse of a shoe in the bottom left suggests it also as a partial self-portrait.) Others feature graphic black and white images generated by zooming close up on a vectorized image file, reducing the digital information to op-art-ish patterns (digital updates of Sigmar Polke’s Ben-Day dots?). While Guyton’s previous works locked onto the bald facts of a file on a screen and its physical output, these seem to describe the parameters of the artist’s enquiry: zooming deep inside the digital matrix, as if scrutinizing its very material, and then pulling out to take in the surrounding production environment.
But the repetition of the central motif becomes relentless, like a question asked over and over again. While a relation to the past has always been intrinsic to Guyton’s approach, riffing on or overwriting modernist tropes, here this historical perspective extends to include his own work – which he must now situate not only in relation to preceding traditions but also to his own previous production and its attendant commercial or critical successes and failures. This self-reflexivity, however, is offset by the works’ aggressive repetition, suggesting that even this moment of personal contemplation cannot survive the reductive processes of reproduction.
The central activity in Guyton’s work is an act of transference, relegating the task of production to the machine. This leaves him to ramp up the possibility of glitches and misreadings on the part of the printing technology, and to edit the results. Consequently, we have a couple of gorgeous, dripping works where the printer has been over-inked and the colour, unable to saturate into the prepared canvas, lies in expressionistic rivulets on its surface. Or grid-like patterns whereby the machine, incapable of reading the zoomed-in-on material, choses unpredictable shades of blue, grey or green. By feeding his industrial printers with information they cannot understand, Guyton forces them to choose. In encouraging interpretative malfunction, he seems to ask if doubt, too, can be transferred to a mechanized production process. The works manifest the problems that mechanical reproduction creates for the status of the artist, making doubt an intrinsic component of artistic labour and giving it centre stage.
First published in Issue 184