Guided by no less than “the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci,” as one statement among the many accompanying this ambitious exhibition at Miguel Abreu proclaims, “The Poet-Engineers” draws itself up with an impressive array of mostly sculptural works that pose, and respond, to their own hermetic riddles. And though the gallery’s own artists—Yuji Agematsu, R. H. Quaytman, and Tishan Hsu, among others—are well represented by their meticulous assemblies, loans of pieces by Trisha Donnelly, K.R.M. Mooney, and Isa Genzken serve as both memorable highlights and lend an air of curated survey to the proceedings, as if one were in a museum rather than a Lower East Side gallery. Spare a thought for that besieged institution in these times, beholden to multiple demands from directions both public and private—or even imaginary—and then forget about luxury problems. Relevant perspectives seem more likely to emerge from a specific vantage point where every person’s not going to end up feeling flattered.
This show is certainly not afraid of its potentially alienating, even obtuse qualities. And parody might even be considered an acceptable risk: the glossy, ribbed flesh of Jean-Luc Moulène’s resin sculpture Trophy - Soft Core 1 (Paris, 2019) (2019), which the checklist, chock-a-block with literature, maintains “manifests a body without organs,” might call to mind a viral 4chan diatribe circa 2017 (“EXPLAIN DELEUZE TO ME OR I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU! . . . WHAT THE FUCK IS A BODY WITHOUT ORGANS? WHAT THE FUCK ARE RHIZOMES?”), thus slightly dampening the gravitas which the French artist’s straight-faced and serious practice generally connotes. But then a pair of Isa Genzken’s wise-cracking, burlesque manifestos of identity in the form of precariously styled and spray-painted mannequins—Untitled (2017)—step in as figures poised to lean into their own joke. For Genzken, a towering mainstay of contemporary sculpture and leading jouster in the legacy arena of German Conceptual and Pop art, no organs are needed to connote how a body, and its relative personhood, might be modified by such modern technologies as Chanel, or Monster Energy drink merchandise. And then there’s the older proposition of naming itself. Seeing one of the mannequins signed “Isa Genzken” in silver on the shoulder, the riddle doesn’t resolve, but instead expands indefinitely. I revise my previous description, and replace it with a question, “Who is that?” Answering is something of a feat of engineering, among the other queries which call all true poets to answer. —Paige K. Bradley
Jean-Luc Moulène, Pyramid'os, 2020. Bronze, green patina 21 1/4 x30 3/8 x25 5/8 inches. Courtest Miguel Abreu, New York.