Heather Rowe‘s exhibition at D’Amelio Terras, which closed June 19, offered a poMo counterpoint to Anne Truitt’s highMo across the street at Matthew Marks. Where Truitt gave us skyscrapers we weren’t supposed to compare to skyscrapers, Rowe gave us a funhouse that that wasn’t fun. That smart crack isn’t necessarily a criticism–it would be perfectly acceptable to wander around Rowe’s maze of construction materials with strategically placed mirrors and dollhouse cutaway views and seriously reflect on self-reflection without “enjoying yourself.” Some people were determined to liven up the proceedings, though. The second time I visited the space, a fellow with video camera, lights, and umbrella had parked himself conspicuously in the middle of Rowe’s pristine-but-busy jungle gymnasium. This (official? amateur?) videographer urged us to “walk naturally” around the inside of the maze so he could get some dynamic shots of humans interacting with the installation. Signs in the gallery warned you to be careful lest the sculpture’s sharp corners injure you while you wander, so there were limits to how natural you could be.
Rowe’s piece mimicked a single cross-section view of a high-rise floor, or rather, the space between floors, improbably suspended at eye level between dark metal stilts anchoring it to the gallery’s polished concrete, and white-painted struts extending to the ceiling. Whereas Anne Truitt embellished the “specific objects” of the minimalist era by coating them with pretty paint colors, Rowe “maximalized” minimalism’s implied reference to architecture with scores of details hiding in plain sight. The unfun funhouse experience was discovering all these architectural “reveals” as you meandered inside the suspended floor. In the place of dollhouse dolls or the little Tom Otterness bronze men doing funny things you might expect, Rowe gave us exotically unexotic glimpses of carpet padding, plywood stacks, and fragments of curvy moulding, all carefully tucked into the crevices of the cutaway and “discovered” as you moved about. Mirrors placed at angles within the floor’s plywood sandwich transformed the gallery into a Piranesian space of cross sections of cross sections of….
Ultimately, like the Seinfeld TV show, the installation was about nothing. Or nothing reflecting on nothing until, I assume the artist thought, it became something. The subject matter wasn’t just the floors of non-descript buildings but the spaces between those floors. And not the conduit, asbestos, dirt, and candy wrappers you would expect to find in those interstitial planes but rather curiosity-cabinets of hiply obscure construction materials. The show could be a comment on urbanization or condo-ization or overdevelopment but one perceived no commitment to those messages in all the archness and scruffy elegance surrounding you. The show hints at the political but finally comes down to taste and not disturbing people’s sensibilities too much. It could almost serve as a rule book of what can and can’t be shown in a certain mid-to-upper-level Chelsea Gallery these days: something so dry and self-consciously correct it needed the warning signs and an intrusive cameraman to bring it to life.