It’s a Metaphor
Nikita Gale at 52 Walker
January 21 – March 26, 2022
A friend recently told me about this word Geschmäckle. In German, Geschmack means taste, and Geschmäckle designates a subspecies of it, a somewhat sleazy taste, like the aroma of a glass of milk left out too long in the sun. So, I walked into Nikita Gale’s 52 Walker exhibition and this word came to my mind. I had just been at the Swiss Institute’s “Beneath Tongues,” which was curated by Sable Elyse Smith, where I had already seen Gale’s WATCH MEEEEEE (2022), a sculpture that one could roughly frame as assisted readymade: an aluminum police barricade, swathed with cables used by the U.S. Navy, which in turn were bound up by terrycloth and small patches of concrete. In my mind, I tried to articulate what I saw: A metaphor for the military-industrial complex. Or is it an allegory of a structure (the military-industrial complex)? Is there a difference between the two? This was followed by another thought: Are the cloth and concrete supposed to express some kind of resistance by inserting random expression into the rigidity of the barricade-grid? Is this a metaphor on structure versus agency?
Half an hour later and inside of “End of Subject,” Gale’s 52 Walker exhibition, the drama got even more basic. What was formerly a white cube is now a color-shifting dance hall or disco room thanks to the spotlights and their lighting program. This visual green-to-purple light stimulation is accompanied by a four-channel audio installation that distributes sound in opaque patterns, turning the whole experience into something between the postmodern sublime and a Wagnerian exercise. Six sets of aluminum bleachers are then distributed across the space, three of which appear to be damaged (by a very large hammer?). Just like at the Swiss Institute, readymades serve to metaphorically stand in for a larger structure (school? discipline? coercion?) that is in turn being deformed to stage a rebellion against this very structure.
My first impulse is, Well, if there was no light, no music, no deformation, and no aluminum wall pieces, if there was just the untouched bleachers, just the residue of structure, then it might have been an OK show. But something about this impulse feels foul, like a kind of Geschmäckle. Just the bleachers would turn the exhibition into a rehearsal of the much-rehearsed conceptualist formula: Readymades employed to have us converse about POLITICS and ART without ever getting our hands dirty. What’s so wrong with sculptures communicating in such a basic way the drama between structure and agency? Why does it always have to be so complicated? Why not speak in plain style?