Wednesday, July 20, 2011

All Falls Down: Sam Falls and Nick van Woert, "Death Valley," at Cleopatra's

A work by Sam Falls, at Cleopatra's, Brooklyn, in "Death Valley," with Nick van Woert.

Even as I type this, the two paintings that Sam Falls has on view at Cleopatra's, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are being torn apart, transmogrifying in slow motion. Both works are monochromes in the loose tradition of Arman: translucent, wall-mounted vitrines filled to their brims with found materials — apples in this instance, red and green.

But there is another material locked inside those boxes: live worms. They are silent and almost invisible from across the gallery, but up close one can see them clearly as they slither quickly around the fruits, waiting for them to rot, for the opportunity to break their skins. It is a grotesque sight.

Falls is planning to feed more apples to the worms throughout the exhibition, until the wall of fruit is replaced by a wall of waste, the colorful monochromes turning the dry brown color of soil. Only at that point, in a sense, will the paintings will be complete. (Will they need to be tended and watered like Walter De Maria's New York Earth Room?) Perversely, these finished products will almost certainly lack the laid-back, easy beauty of their original state.

For now, the works embody organic, natural processes, and are marked with the rare distinction of being paintings that have the potential to fail — literally and completely — in public. The worms could die. The waste could slip through the seams of the vitrines. The smell of the accumulated effluvia could simply become too intense to endure, forcing an evacuation of the gallery that would make Robert Barry proud.

Fans by Falls

For now, though, everything appears to be going according to plan. Falls has even kindly provided portable fans that he has painted into kinetic Kenneth Nolands, classy tools for braving these summer days, or just for clearing the air if his paintings become too pungent as they are composting.

Work by Nick van Woert is here, too, at the front of the gallery: a series of thin plastic containers that he has filled with household substances like mouthwash, sugar, and cleaning liquids, perfectly cold, synthetic partners to Falls's naturally decomposing display.

A work by Nick van Woert

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