At his boldest, Mehmet Ali Uysal pinched a flat lawn into a bulbous mound with a monumental clothespin and peeled away a gallery wall to construct an interior spiral jetty. These sorts of large-scale, irreverent gestures have made a name for the 38-year-old Turkish artist. In “The Past,”his new show at Pearl Lam Galleries, Uysal channels his signature mischievousness—used to poke at traditional modes of perception—into smaller, subtler works that still pack an inquisitive punch.
As the show’s temporal title suggests, Uysal subverts time-honored symbols related to art, architecture, and value to question their contemporary relevance. In particular, this exhibition hones in on the classical viewing mechanisms of framing and hanging.
In an unexpected twist, Uysal’s “Painting” series(2014) offers architectural anti-objects instead of classic canvas-frame constructions. Rectangular shapes push from behind the walls of a completely white room. These painting specters, stuck beneath an impenetrable surface, reference the history of art, installation, and corresponding systems of value. By creating a purgatorial space between materiality and immateriality, Uysal infers that artworks and the commercial galleries they inhabit are one—they could not exist without each other.
The sculptures of Uysal’s “Suspended” series (2014) further his investigation of cultural commodification. Uysal isolates and undermines the picture frame—traditionally used to enhance the value and grandeur of a painting—by removing the artwork and rendering the once-geometric form in drooping plastic. The resulting shapes resemble anything but their ornate, provenance-heavy predecessors at The Louvre or the Met. Here, they hang from clothing hangers and meat hooks, painted off-white, brown, and blood red, and recall discarded sweaters, limp house plants, and animals who recently met their end. By connecting a symbol of old-line luxury with the innuendo of decay, Uysal suggests that it might be time to revise conventional approaches to exhibition and valuation.