Contributed by Sharon Butler / Contemplating Gerrit Rietveld’s furniture, especially the pieces he made from crates, Björn Meyer-Ebrecht realized that utilitarian furniture can be sculpture, and that sculpture in turn can serve as a utilitarian object. He explores this idea in a thoughtful and lively new show at Owen James Gallery in Soho. A series of multitasking table-like objects that function as reductive sculptures, as painting supports, and also as tables and platforms are placed throughout the gallery. Oddly-shaped, large-scale ink renderings of life-sized architectural photographs adorn the walls, hovering above the table-objects. Seen another way, the drawings look like portals into other worlds. During the opening reception, excited kids bounded and jumped from one platform to another while their parents chatted unperturbed, because, no worries – the artist said anything goes. Meyer-Ebrecht likes work that fosters interaction.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, and long a Bushwick resident, he has always regarded Modernism – in particular, the architecture of Mies van der Rohe – as a failed utopian ideal. Like Piet Mondrian and other painters exploring reductive materiality, Meyer-Ebrecht has customarily used color to define shape and space rather than as an expressive medium. In this exhibition, however, he embraces a more casual, hand-drawn approach, which at first conveys an innocent abandon. Saturated color is off the leash, spattered and smeared geometric shapes overlay the surfaces. The drawings, more stern in their monochromatic intensity, combine photographic exactitude and dripping, pooling ink. Expressionist exuberance thus meets rigid architectural form and rendering in both the drawings and the objects. The combo is thought-provoking and unexpectedly harmonious.
Where precision and restraint have marked Meyer-Ebrecht’s furniture-architecture-sculptures in the past, spontaneity, both in making and interacting with the objects, is a new objective. As in his earlier work, art meets life, but in a much more playful, inviting way. Is the artist, once content to have viewers experience architectural form with a passive walk-through, urging us to rise up and hold forth, as if on a soapbox, just as activists did before they were afforded the silent and indirect amplification of social media? Come to think of it, the promise of social media is also a failed utopian idea.
“Björn Meyer-Ebrecht: Uprising,” Owen James Gallery, Soho, 59 Wooster Street, 2nd floor, New York, NYThrough June 1, 2019.