An intellectual venture into function and form, yielding forms that are surprisingly tactile and visceral.
Volume Gallery, Chicago
18th September – 30th October 2021
A GRADUATE OF the famed Cranbrook Academy of Art, Minnesota-based polymath Jonathan Muecke has dedicated his illustrious career to bending the boundaries of art, architecture and design. Like many of his contemporaries, Muecke’s cumulative oeuvre occupies an experimental and conceptual realm that questions the parameters of function and form. In his quest, the trained architect challenges cultural and social norms – while also skewing proportion and subverting historical symbols.
His – what are ostensibly, sculptures – borrow references from furniture, material culture, everyday objects and architectonic elements. Ultimately, his refined forms exist to define negative and positive space and don’t claim any specific purposes. These liminal objects remain pure as instigations and studies.
Represented by Chicago-based Volume Gallery and Brussels-based Maniera, he aligns with both platforms’ distinctive architectural programmes, that is architect-led furniture and object design.
This focus often results in a more intellectual approach, one that employs the design medium to make larger statements about culture and society. It allows these practitioners the space and time to test out ideas they might not have within the constructed environment. Muecke takes full advantage of this approach and format.
“Through an incredibly focused and concise body of work produced over more than a decade, the epistemological question on the relation between art and design seems to be an obsession Jonathan Muecke obstinately wrestles with,” says Mark Lee, Chair of the Department of Architecture and Professor in Practice at Harvard Graduate School of Design.
“Muecke’s work is often suspended between opposites, occupying the terrain between stasis and movement, foreground and background, known and unknown, the physical and the psychological. But rather than finding a static equilibrium, or a common denominator between the opposites, his work is always in constant motion. The result of this dynamism is a strangeness that is always present in his objects. Even though they may appear to be simple and singular at first glance, the richness unfolds slowly.”
With the ‘Volume 80’ exhibition – on view till 30th October – Muecke’s goal is to introduce new shapes to our collective visual vocabulary. Such a task brings the artist into the philosophical realm, the search for what is entirely nascent; much like our memories of experiencing something for the first time. And yet, Meucke is not seeking to capture or anchor these elements but simply offer them up as propositions or frameworks from which others can formulate their own definitions.
Though quite heady in explanation, these new works are particularly tactile and visceral when encountered in person. Cast in monochromatic blacks and reds his latest collection for Volume Gallery plays on the perception of two and three-dimensional forms.
While the ‘Marble Carbon Table’ and ‘CTC 3 Carbon Tube Chair’ appear self-explanatory as minimalistic articulators, slight alterations in composition, scaling and assembly suggest otherwise. These are, yet again, Platonic investigations more than they are functional.
As evident in wholly contrasting sculptures ‘RWH (Rock With Holes)’ and ‘TB (Textile Box)’, the use of gridded insertions or cut-outs seems to be a common thread in this collection. Perhaps these surface-layer and through-material treatments are indications that these objects are not what they appear to be, and that some level of artifice is involved.
Much like the rupture that occurs between a crystalline maquette of a building and the finished thing, could these pristine sculptures simply be hypothetical? Is Muecke playing on our expectations? Only he knows.
What is clear, however, is that the mastery of certain production techniques affords him the ability to play with such iconographic and formal complexities, creating combinations that emphatically jolt our understanding of space.
At the core of his explorations, Muecke finesses the qualities of depth, monumentality, light, shadow, texture and materiality. This savvy is even evident in the two dimensional ‘FS (Flat Shape)’ artworks. It’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with next.
Jonathan Muecke at Volume Gallery.