Toby Paterson: Consensus and Collapse
The fear of knocking over an exhibit – along with mistaking an artwork for a bench or a light switch for a sculpture – is a point of comic reference frequently bandied around in relation to the physical experience of contemporary art galleries. This conditioned response comes into play when traversing the specially designed installation that currently dominates the lower floor of the Fruitmarket Gallery. Parallelling Glasgow artist Paterson’s continued interest in the physical experience of the urban landscape, large suspended criss-crossing panels – upon which paintings, reliefs and constructions from 2003 to 2009 are embedded – force a careful negotiatiation of the densely packed space.
Delineating the planes, forms and brightly-coloured politics of postwar modernist architecture, Paterson’s accomplished works reference a montage of idealised and reconfigured structures. Seen from the varied vantages that the unusual construction proffers, including the glimpsed, obscured and reflected, it’s a dizzying yet familiar selection that seems to simultaneously represent everywhere and nowhere. Although titles and narrative desciptions reference real architecture and actual sites – for example Coventry buildings The Precinct (Bull Yard) (2005) and New Civic Centre (2005) – the artist’s mild depictions render them strangely sourceless. Similarly toying with notions of reality and abstraction, Paterson pays homage to the designs of 1960s Glasgow architectural firm Gillespie, Kidd & Coia with obtusely named works Suburban Church (2003) and Church in a New Town (2003).
The curatorial approach taken here has been previously evinced in Fruitmarket solo shows by Claire Barclay and Lucy Skaer. It’s a sort of neo-retrospective in which Paterson’s developing practice is examined in the context of a new commission, and as such, the ground floor works form a coda through which large new installation Backwards and Forwards (Obstructions Composed from Obsolete Forms) (2010) is read. While in the past this curatorial device has been sucessful, it seems reductive here, rendering Paterson’s large space-altering work merely illustrative of conceits explored downstairs.
These are works that play ball with the old universal thematics of idealism and entropy, but this presentation is a little dry, and although the initial effects are attention-grabbing and impressive, the true complexity of these works has not been given space to unfold.
Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 28 Mar