Fall 2015

Tuesday 01/05/2016

Mark Manders's "Room with Unfired Clay Figures," 2011-15, currently on view at Tanya Bonakdar gallery. (Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York)

Mark Manders at Tanya Bonakdar

Each new detail emerging from Mark Manders’s works at Tanya Bonakdar gallery in New York (through December 19) serves only to sink one further into the depths of obfuscation. Plastic sheets augment the ground floor, creating a slender entryway into a room meant to mimic a studio space. Set upon a plastic drop-cloth, scattered with clay dust, are inexpensive folding chairs covered with newspaper and what appear to be large buckets of the same clay used to make the two sizable sculptures that dominate the space—large renderings of blank-expressioned heads with chins pressed onto the suggestion of a torso. The clay is so craquelured that the sculptures could be taken for failed attempts, and both are spliced in half by wooden boards. In an adjoining room, an approximately 10-foot-long form that resembles a sprinting hare floats in space, its nose and tail touching the plastic walls of the makeshift room.

Nothing is exactly what it seems, except for perhaps the clay underfoot, which turns out (upon intense questioning of the gallery staff) to be the only actual clay in an exhibition comprising sculptures purportedly made from that medium. The checklist gives some things away, but not everything. They’re all, in fact, painstakingly realistic fabrications in bronze, as are the contents of the buckets. The newspapers, too, are fictional, just like the ones Manders gave out for free in newspaper boxes throughout downtown Vancouver in 2010—broadsheets filled entirely with nonsensical strings of English words.

Upstairs, four medium-size, similarly faux clay works in bronze are shown beside a fifth bronze piece that, though cast from a clay form, is the only work whose material is not disguised. A work with wood paneling similar to that found downstairs is revealed also to made from camouflaged metal, and the realization calls everything below into question. Questionable, too, is the apparent serenity of the faces throughout, once met with Dry figure on chair, 2011–13. The same blank stare here seems transformed by the brutality of a beam protruding from the lower half of the figure’s body, retrospectively calling up allusions to a violence perpetrated against this female form in the constant dissection and breaking down of the figure throughout the show. But then, are these female representations at all? The torsos are only indistinct logs, the features neither determinedly feminine nor masculine. Was it only the shoulder-length hair that led to this assumption? It’s not merely that the works presented are one thing dressed up as another—simple trickery doesn’t magnetize viewers the way Manders’s seemingly ever-present smokescreen does—but that one leaves feeling not entirely certain of what one’s seen.

From the BLOUIN ARTINFO online posting by Juliet Helmke (Class of 2012) on December 16, 2015.