The Modern Institute, Glasgow, until Fri 30 Mar
There is a well documented shift in American art from the late 50s to the 70s with artists creating work that slots right into the machine that is the museum like a mass produced cog. Large, hard-edged paintings and minimalist armour-plated sculptures made detours through the foyers of multinational conglomerates, banks etc, before being deposited in a stark white room in an office block-like museum. Martin Boyce creates work that critiques this easy flow from the studio to the museum, with sculptural installations that turn the gallery space into the hall of an ‘international style’ apartment block or municipal entrance.
In the main gallery space, a large metal structure acts as a room divider, a temporary wall that would not look out of place in an open plan house from the 60s. This elegant ribbon wall now becomes a thin barrier between the outside and the inside of a dwelling, where the distinction between both falls away (as in the designs of Modernist masters such as Mies and Le Corbusier). Brass wall plates just above the skirting board cover imaginary ventilation systems, and the cool spring air that ‘blows through concrete leaves’ outside is now air-conditioned - again the distinction between inside and out is reversed.
With the main source of lights removed from the gallery, the space is lit with four black rectilinear wall lamps, simplified Tatlin corner reliefs that now glow with an aura of functional fourth dimensional luminosity. In the smaller gallery two mask-like sculptures stare at the blank walls; their forms evoke the figurative work of Naum Gabo or Julia Gonzales, where ‘man-made’ materials maketh the man. The faces are supported by silver geometric frames, ornate structures that could act as successful works in their own right.
Boyce presents work that manages to appear both utopian and melancholic, drawing on a high Modernist aesthetic that seems very familiar, but is not ours. His work reminds us that Scotland does not have an early 20th century avant-garde tradition, but the artists working here at the beginning of the 21st century are a force to be reckoned with.