Writing Art History Since 2002

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The Premises | Johannesburg

I never quite know what to expect when I visit The Premises, although I do know it will never be quiet or traditional. Trapani’s exhibition PREtension doesn’t disappoint and certainly presents an obstacle.The principal installation takes the form of a series of white plinths, which overwhelm the space. Seven of these monumental towers sit in rows across the floor. Their size is awkward. In fact, their very shape is awkward as it becomes apparent something is fundamentally wrong with them. At least one face is not perpendicular to the others, producing a disturbing aesthetic for the viewer.Closer inspection of the plinths reveals that a spirit level has been attached to some and is propped up with wooden strips, making them level. The bases of others are supported by wood to level them, while a plumb line and level runs down the side of another. Two of the plinths feature plastic tot glasses half-filled with wine; they brace the one plinth, while sit at a precarious angle on the other. There is a disquieting sense here that art is not always what it seems or professes to be.The plinths profess a certain minimalism in their crisp manufactured edges, yet are also so removed from that dialectic. The viewer has to resolve some significance between the factory artifice that proclaims the object’s perfect level, and human ability to perceive that flawed edge. Trapani’s underlying tension is in questioning the nature of art as reflective of truth or pure fabrication. The process of deciphering this tension is fraught with the complications of critical interpretation, requiring the viewer’s engagement. Trapani sees this expectation as hypocrisy. I disagree. A degree of critical analysis should be demanded of the viewer, as often all that is required is some lateral thought, or a more accessible visual language. The show also included two overly big photographic prints, each depicting four cube corners, and maquettes of the plinths. The images are distracting and inconsistent, while the maquettes lack the weight of the plinths themselves and feel irrelevant within the space.Trapani’s plinths, on the other hand, are successful in communicating his intentions, however incongruous. I do hope his concerns evolve to more temporal relevance. Perhaps Trapani simply needs his own post-modern moment.

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