A Review of Mark Leckey: Containers and Their Drivers at PS1, Long Island City, New York
The smell of meat stock permeated all three floors of PS1. It was an unintended olfactory punch from the Kunsthalle’s in-house restaurant, M. Wells Dinette. Yet, the cloying, unctuous odor created an additional atmospheric in Mark Leckey's sensory assault. PS1 smelled like a fatty broth or stew in an English working man's café, which seemed sort of appropriate given Leckey’s self-described working class background.
The best way to encounter the exhibition is to take PS1's voluminous, mid-20th century elevator to the third floor. It sluggishly ascends, creaking, moaning, and beeping. It becomes a portal. You enter a different world governed by Leckey's sampling of primarily British culture: visual, auditory, and cinematic. By the time you transit this world you can almost taste the café’s fatty broth. The only sense that seems unengaged is touch.
Containers and Its Drivers is a reconfiguration of a reconfiguration. It needs space, and the definition provided by PS1’s architecture neatly compartmentalizes Leckey’s biography and collections. Leckey and his curator co-organizers - Peter Eleey, Stuart Comer, and colleagues - use it well. By dint of PS1’s labyrinth of stall-like spaces, the exhibition is a blocky reinvention of his 2014-2015 presentation at Wiels (Brussels), Mark Leckey: Lending Enchantment to Vulgar Materials. Wiels was elegant and refined in comparison. You could waltz through its adjoining expanses.
That Leckey continues to rethink and reconfigure his icons, personal collections of the bizarre and the banal, and integrates new works is so fresh. At times, the films feel like the didactic lectures of Seth Price; other times the sculptures feel like Jean-Luc Moulène. In between there are 3-color LED displays simplifying the entirety of digital media and Leckey's amateur archeology of post-plastic stuff. Some of it is so wonderfully weird, like a cast of William Blake's death mask, a copy of Robert Gober’s Untitled (Man Coming Out of a Woman) (1993). The interconnected rooms of displays and vitrines come together like a true cabinet of curiosities, bridging analog and digital eras. Leckey insists, “This isn’t curating, this is aggregating.”
There is a foundation to all this seeming randomness: Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a 1999 video. It is acknowledged his breakthrough work, perhaps even a masterpiece. It samples and collages found footage of British dance subcultures from the 1970s to the 1990s. If you are lucky enough to spot it, there is a hand-drawn road map in the small anteroom. It is a guide to Leckey’s cumulative musical encounters. Music and sound are central to Leckey. You just have to steal a quote: “If ever there was an artist who uses left field pop music as the alter of inspiration, it’s got to be . . . Leckey.” (Kudos to Nadja Sayej, the guardian.com, October 27, 2016). He uses music sonically and sculpturally.
The sculptural installation in which Fiorucci is projected looks like an homage to Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis. Ditto the speaker sculptures on the second floor. Both trigger visual memories of the “New Brutalist” architecture that was constructed throughout postwar Britain during the 1960s and 1970s. Leckey was born in 1964 in Birkenhead, Wirral, near Liverpool. He attended Newcastle Polytechnic in northern England. This architecture would have been familiar in his landscape. (There seem to be a few other film-related homages like the street lamps that look inspired by alien life forms in The Day the Earth Stood Still and the transmission towers in the Japanese Mothra series.)
Leckey is a Brit. (He is even a Turner Price winner (2008), which seems to be a necessary biographical detail.) Britishness permeates everything. But when he freely samples the work of other artists, it is generous, and decidedly European. This makes sense given his longstanding relationships with his English-born gallerist, Gavin Brown, and his German gallerist, Daniel Buchholz. Leckey showed at both venues in 2000, and had a major outing in 2008 at the Cologne Kunstverein. He also triggers a more than casual association with the collaborative installations of Franz West.
When asked about visitors' reactions, a docent responded, "people typically burst out in giggles," especially to the oversized, semi-inflated Felix the Cat figure (referring to the first ever broadcast image by RCA in 1928). It sits in a corner like a drooping Buddha, a perfect Instagram siting. In fact, across from it is a video display of an Instagram feed. This is a recreational moment selfie equal to Pipilotti Rist's downtown theatre Pixel Forest at the New Museum. Little do visitors know that they are in a deeper, darker distant world that mines the clubby, carnal consciousness of Mark Leckey. It’s flipping brill.
On view at MoMa PS1 from October 23, 2016–March 5, 2017
Written by Clayton Press, a contributor to Arteviste.