Malraux’s Shoes & Tagging the Archive

Kent Fine Art,  210 Eleventh Avenue
New York, NY 10001
7 September – 20 October 2012
Words Applied to Wounds

Murray Guy, 453 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011
15 November 2012 — 12 January 2013
Dennis Adams, “Malraux’s Shoes” (2012). Video still. Single-channel video, 42 minutes. Written and performed by Dennis Adams. Directed by Dennis Adams and Paul Colin.

Dennis Adams, “Malraux’s Shoes” (2012). Video still. Single-channel video, 42 minutes. Written and performed by Dennis Adams. Directed by Dennis Adams and Paul Colin.

Mark Rothko once evoked the dissonance between solitude and intimacy: “But the solitary figure could not raise its limbs in a single gesture that might indicate its concern with the fact of mortality and an insatiable appetite for ubiquitous experience in face of this fact… I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing and stretching one’s arms again” (Possibilities, 1947, 84).

A reach potentially perilous or sustaining…for the “making known” of intimacy is motivated by exchange, exposing oneself to uncertainty, transgressing the boundaries of self-control. What happens then when intimacy begins to betray itself in the public sphere? When emotions break through the seams of a well-tailored suit? When the shield of intellectual bravura buckles under scrutiny? When a crystal tumbler hits the floor and shatters?

“Stealing a small gesture from a woman I once loved.”
Dennis Adams, Malraux’s Shoes (2012)

Dennis Adams’s Malraux’s Shoes (2012), recently shown at Kent Fine Art, and Alejandro Cesarco’s If In Time (2012), now on view at Murray Guy, reveal a willing vulnerability on the part of the artist that is rare outside a more confessional, feminist practice (Tracey Emin, Joanna Frueh, Sharon Hayes, for example). So encased are men in silence, self-assurance, purpose, and disinterest that opacity seems almost a birthright and issues belong to the one who questions. All the more interesting then when a character replete with the angst of aging, drink, power, and the flagrant display of ingenuity lets slip a small punctum of love’s memory. Is it the character or the artist who speaks? The reader or the writer?

imaginary museum

André Malraux, with the illustrations for Le Musée Imaginaire, 1947

Who owns the text? The challenge of conceptual art is the presumption that we are either in the know or else hopelessly outside the picture. If we cannot read between lines of language that may be sparse, disjunctive, or opaque, then we should perhaps move along like passersby who have no business examining the scene of the crime. Adams’s crime scene, however, is too gripping to pass by. Assuming the persona of an André Malraux throwing a Tourette’s tantrum on the floor of art history’s tradition and the art world’s pluperfect future, Adams overlays a monologue of snide quips and cruel innuendo with an alluring narrative of fragmented reflections – a Krapp’s Last Tape as romantic anti-poem – forming a dialogue with the self, made public.

Filmed from above, foreshortening the figure dramatically and looking down onto a floor systematically arrayed with prints of antiquity’s top one hundred art objects, Adams spins off the classic image of France’s Minister of Culture surrounded by representations. Whether Malraux’s Imaginary Museum, Warburg’s Atlas Project, Broodthaer’s Department of Eagles, the archive confronts an endless questioning of the relation between image and actuality, knowledge and perceptual base. Life is full of such ambiguity: the pitfalls potential pratfalls, daring to slip us up and land us flat on our face. “I don’t know” is as good a place to start as any: recognition of the possibility of emerging from the search empty-handed except for the mask. Theatre of intimacy, drama of solitude, conversations of parallel convergences…

“One is real. The other is possible.”
Alejandro Cesarco, If In Time (2012)

Alejandro Cesarco, “Words Applied to Wounds” (2012) Installation view. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy.

Both Adams’s and Cesarco’s films are without chroma: Malraux’s Shoes is filmed in black and white and If In Time’s minimal stage set is bathed in somber lighting that leeches color. Only the skin tone of face and hands hold us in the present tense as we reflect on the past –  “that one’s life has been, for many years, nothing but misunderstandings” – the woman in Cesarco’s drama narrates. Two characters converse through reading. She reads to him narrative lines from familiar yet unspecified texts (Duras? Vila-Matas?). He reads to her a critical text he is writing (or editing) referring obliquely to Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur (1965) through a few cut-away shots of a pamphlet commemorating the film’s 40th anniversary. These illustrated pages, along with shots of a balcony full of plants and sunlight, are unsettling – they interject an unbearable lightness of being otherwise absent in the somber communication between two who connect only across the text they read. Colorful and replete with light, these scenes dramatize “the interplay between affirming and negating the real” – a quality of Varda’s Le Bonheur – while Cesarco’s close-ups of faces reflect Varda’s studied interleaving in La Pointe Courte (1954).

“Her stories,” the male character reads, “are not only part of my literary heritage. They also form an active part of my daily life. They have accompanied it, made it bitter, and nurtured it. They’ve allowed me to comprehend that which was outside of books.” For Cesarco, Words Applied to Wounds – the title of this exhibition that also includes Index, An Orphan and An Abridged History of Regret – are also their inverse for the question of translation is this: do we bring experience to our reading (Stuart Hall) or do we bring reading to our engagement with life (Guy Debord)? “Reading is the art of constructing personal memory based on someone else’s experiences and remembrances,” he tells her.


ALEJANDRO CESARCO, “If In Time” (2012) HD video with sound.
Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy.

Cesarco suggests that we cannot honestly “own” feelings –they predate our dramas as “tactics of the imagination” – and, yet, without these borrowed texts would we even know how to share, so adept we are at losing love due to our own folly? For Dennis Adam’s heated Malraux, “The love of art is a confusion of loves.” There is “No more dwelling in Heidegger’s twisted little smirk. / The last one standing has a lot to explain.” For Alejandro Cesarco’s thoughtfully loving couple there is “…sadness. A twisted smile.”

As a process of interpolation can these conversations converge to end this silence and solitude, stretching one’s arms again? The slow, sweeping movements Adams lends to the music of Schubert as he catches his breath hints that for someone the gesture was once worth a dance.

Kathleen MacQueen, December 12, 2012

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