If contemporary art remains far too removed from daily life for some people, Briac Leprêtre’s Like It Is exhibition at Parker’s Box makes the case for exactly the opposite. On the walls of the Williamsburg gallery viewers encounter carefully constructed watercolors of unfinished domestic interiors and on the floor are concrete sculptures that almost resemble utilitarian objects arranged around the room. The watercolors are a crucial part of the display but their painterly touch is stiff and restrained. In the center of the space, there is a massive column that is far too large for the gallery but feels strangely at home, as if it had been there all along.

One of the walls near the entrance of Parker’s Box is painted to resemble newly mounted dry wall, gesture that makes the age-old practice of trompe-l’œil completely contemporary. The gallery is selling the wall work, “Rocked and Mudded Wall” (2011), for $100 a square foot (plus artist expenses). That means you can transform any surface with this unorthodox striped decoration. If the concept of “Rocked and Mudded Wall” sounds somewhat absurd, the effect is actually provocative and inviting, even if it is unexpected. The artist’s framed watercolors help re-emphasize the wall as an art work as they echo the subject matter and make viewers conscious of the painted wall’s surface, which on closer investigation is more finished than any regular dry wall job.

“Before Painting sieres, 07” (2011) (all photos by the author) (click to enlarge)

Gallerist Alun Williams mentioned to me that most people come in unable to figure out what is art and what isn’t, and many simply leave confused, uninterested in the whole notion of artistic boundaries.

The smaller sculptures from the Evolving Forms series (all 2011) are arranged in the corner of the front gallery of Parker’s Box. They’re made of cast concrete, unlike the massive column in the center (titled “T-Beam”, from 2011) which is fashioned out of Styrofoam, tile adhesive and acrylic. These architectural works instantly provoke a comparison to Rachel Whiteread but feel more constructed and less about space than about form. They use the imagery of the everyday, but they push that language into more complex designs, much like Suprematist sculpture and architecture of the 1920s and its interest at getting to the essence of monumentality, even at a diminutive scale.

“Evolving Forms series, 02” (2011) (click to enlarge)

This is a slow exhibition; you need to spend some time in the gallery to allow the forms to open up and reveal their subtleties. As a case in point, “T-Beam” initially comes across as austere and cold, like an anonymous pillar of a highway overpass, but because of the way it transforms the scale of the room, it begins to feel less like architecture and more like the sculptural focal point of the whole exhibition, emphasized by its size and totem-like presence. Beside “T-Beam”, the Evolving Forms feel almost homey.

In a 2005 installation, “Classic & Smart,” Leprêtre used his skills with styrofoam and paint to transform a white box gallery into a very bourgeois-seeming wood-paneled room. This earlier work suggests the artist’s interest is far beyond form, and also extends into illusion.

Within the art, there is also the absurdity of trying to capture a transient state, as the watercolors or wall painting do, and then fashioning it into an art object. Lots of art is about capturing fleeting moments, but here the surprise is that the objects themselves are much more about the potential for something new, if at first seemingly unfinished, than expected.

Turning the corner from the entrance, you’re immediately confronted by the large “T-Beam” (2011) and the smaller “Evolving Forms” series (all 2011) behind.

Looking back to the back room.

Three works from the “Evolving Forms” series.

A view of the painting stacks that divides the gallery.

Left, “Before Painting series, 08” (2011), and right, “Before Painting series, 06” (2011).

A view of the Parker’s Box version of “Rocked and Mudded Wall” (2011), which consists of acrylic on sheetrock.

While you’re at Parker’s Box, be sure to check out the editions by Le pointe d’ironie, which is an artist series published by Agnès B. and edited/curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist. The Grand Street gallery is one of the only places to pick up these free works. When I stopped by they were out of their Christian Boltanski editions (no. 50) but they still have copies of the piece by Dayanita Singh (no. 51).

Briac Leprêtre’s Like It Is continues at Parker’s Box (193 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) until June 19, 2011.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

5 replies on “Under Construction at Parker’s Box”

  1. Other than using building materials, how in the heck does this gobbeldy gook in any way make art less removed from people’s everyday lives?  I find it interesting, yes… but I’m an artist.

    1. I think by seeking the beauty in the everyday is it as much about removing the special aura of art — which often comes from feeling removed from life and being made with uncommon materials — and making people aware of the unexpected and overlooked.

  2. The work is interesting but I think I’m one of the many that walk away “uninterested in the whole notion of artistic boundaries”.  It’s a tired dialectic.  Isn’t an intrinsic aspect of art that it is removed from everyday life?  It turns into home decore when it isn’t. 

    1. I know what you mean but I think there’s validity to the idea. I think in this case people’s reactions were really interesting and I felt it myself. I wondered if it was unfinished, etc. I have spoken to some others that were confused by the show, I think that’s confusion is partly based on the “home decore” you mention, but in this case it looks like he’s renovating and in the process of decorating. I hope I’m being clear.

      1. I think I know what you mean.  Confusion can definitely be a good sign in art – it can mean something new is happening.  It at least gets people to think things through a bit more.  I did like how he presented something seemingly unfinished as finished.  It forces people to think about process and potentiality.  I also thought it was clever to title the paintings Before Painting.

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