Continuing his study of process, for Performances Under Working Conditions Beshty covered the gallery’s desks and work counters with customized copper duplicates, which the staff then used as they normally would for the duration of the summer group exhibition, A Machinery for Living, curated by Beshty.  The copper preserved the staff’s coffee rings, rested elbows, scratches and even what appear to be bare foot prints, all originating from the nexus of the employee’s most frequent position at the desk, which oxidized to mercurial stain. As such, Beshty offers evidence of the everyday actions performed by the staff—at least those that came into contact with one of the surfaces—which typically remain disconnected from the works hanging on the gallery walls. Whether or not this information is interesting in any way is debatable.


Performances Under Working Conditions adds another chapter to Beshty’s previous works in which his pieces represent an objective insertion into everyday life. In the ongoing series, FedEx Boxes, he inserts laminated glass or mirrorpane cubes into a regulation FedEx box just barely larger than the fragile object inside, and then ships it somewhere. The final installations feature the glass cubes, which accrue varying amounts of fractures on their surfaces during their journeys and their shipping containers. In

Walead Beshty documents traces. Whether they are the cracks and bumps collected as an object travels through space, or the indelible lines rendered on film by x-ray exposure, he examines the interactions between humans and objects. In his investigations of these phenomena, Beshty often highlights the mundane—shipping boxes, floor tiles, counter tops—in grand ways through his use of highly reflective or chromatically vibrant materials such as copper, mirrors, and color photography. Very little of the striking aesthetic in his other works can be found in the current exhibition, Performances Under Working Conditions at Petzel Gallery. The gallery, which offers a spacious, open floor plan, dedicated its larger rooms to the concurrent exhibition of Allan Mccollum’s The Shapes Project: Perfect Couples and awkwardly placed Beshty’s work in the smaller, adjacent room. The installation manages to make the attractively patinated, large-scale, copper surfaces feel unimportant, and makes the floor sculptures—ominous and humble—seem unresolved.

Walead Beshty, Performances Under Working Conditions, 2014, Courtesy of the Artist and Petzel, New York.

another, more liability-risking piece featured in his exhibition Passages at LAXART, Beshty installed a mirrored floor of shatter-proof architectural glass running throughout the installation. As people visited and walked through the exhibition, the floor shattered, following the flow of their motion. These series, as well as the current, create a quasi-systematic environment cataloging the ways humans move through space. Photographic history contains several precedents in which artistic means were used to record performance of work-related and everyday actions, such as Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion series or Frank Gilbreth’s “Motion Efficiency Study,” made at the turn of the twentieth century. The actions recorded by Beshty however, negate any possible utility for the data other than aesthetic value. The copper pieces show us beautiful marks that become meaningless when taken out of the context of their original environments.

This is where the installation fails: the over-crowded arrangement suffocates the sensual value of both the individual pieces and the series as a whole. If the works functioned as some sort of inventory of information, perhaps a bureaucratic installation style reflecting the angular, stacked organization of office spaces would be effective. Nor does the installation give the impression of ironically referencing the original utilitarian environment. Because Beshty celebrates visual pleasure in addition to the individual concepts that drive each series, his work requires an expansive space in which to breathe and be appreciated for its sensational qualities.


Walead Beshty, Performances Under Working Conditions, 2014

Courtesy of the Artist and Petzel, New York.

Performances Under Working Conditions

Sept. 4-Oct. 4, 2014

Petzel Gallery

468 West 18th Street

New York, NY 10019-5497


From the Website:

In his new exhibition, Walead Beshty continues to explore the ways in which objects accrue and produce meaning through their placement and circulation in the world. Using the preexisting design of the gallery tables and desktops as a readymade, Beshty created polished raw copper sculptures built to the dimensions of the gallery’s working surfaces. The “Copper Surrogates” were then installed replacing the gallery’s desks and left in place for his curated summer exhibition A Machinery for Living. As the gallery staff resumed their normal everyday work activities, their movements tarnished a patina on to the highly reflective copper surfaces. Much like film capturing a moment in time, the copper surrogates map the progression of the gallery staff’s immaterial labor: of discourse, transaction and negotiation. In September, the copper surrogates will be installed in the gallery, dislocating them from their original function.


Walead Beshty (b. 1976, London, UK) is an artist and writer living and working in Los Angeles, and Associate Professor in the Graduate Art Department of Art Center College of Design. In the past decade he has had numerous solo exhibitions including Fair Use, The Power Station, Dallas, TX (2013); Securities and Exchanges, The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2011); A Diagram of Forces, Malmö Konsthall, Malmö, Sweden / Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid, Spain (2011); Walead Beshty: Legibility on Colored Backgrounds, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2009); Pulleys, Cogwheels, Mirrors, and Windows, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI (2009); Passages, LAX ART, Los Angeles, CA (2009); Hammer Project: Walead Beshty, The Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2006) and The Phenomenology of Shopping and Dead Malls, P.S.1/MoMA Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, (2004). A forthcoming exhibition, Walead Beshty, A Partial Disassembling of an Invention Without a Future: Helter-Skelter and Random Notes in Which the Pulleys and Cogwheels Are Lying Around at Random All Over the Workbench, will open at the Barbican Centre in London in October of 2014, marking his first solo show in a UK public gallery.

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