Shining a light into Adam Gordon’s darkness

Paul Laster

New York-based artist Adam Gordon is melding painting with installation and photography, but it’s not the medium itself that he cares about; psychology and solitude come first.

“I’m not interested in fully immersive environments, even though there are qualities of what I do that relate to those kind of spaces,” Adam Gordon recently told Conceptual Fine Arts at The Power Station in Dallas, where his latest installation is currently on view. “I’m much more interested in bringing a particular kind of environment within the clear frame or pedestal of the gallery space.”

Addressing a small group of interested curators and critics just days after his enigmatic exhibition The Grey Room had opened at the experimental art space, Gordon spoke about the ways in which he transforms space to reach a psychological end rather than a purely aesthetic one. Housed in a former Dallas Power & Light building which was constructed in 1920, the raw architecture of the exhibition space was the perfect setting for the artist’s eerie intervention.

Known for creating pure, haunting art environments that challenge the viewer’s expectations, Gordon has constructed engaging installations at Night Gallery in Los Angeles, Chapter NY and, most recently, Galleria ZERO in Milan. Pushing the envelope further, this past December he installed a mystifying room in his New York gallery’s booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach that had stained walls, a dirty leak on the floor and a sheer curtain dangling from the ceiling. Absent of any interior activity, the room was walled off from the public with clear Plexiglas, while sparked from the outside by an ominous, lurking woman who would suddenly appear before silently slipping away.

“There are certain ideas of distance within the work, almost like a vista. I’m also a painter, so I can’t help but to create images within a 3D space,” Gordon added. “The Plexiglas was a way to create an image out of a sculptural space, an image that’s very controlled. That’s why I’ve always been interested in works like Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés, which is so controlled that it’s almost maniacal.”

Entering The Grey Room on the upper level of the exhibition, the viewer encounters an empty, shaded gallery, which the artist equates to a palette cleanser, or a setting that slows you down. Descending a small staircase, you find yourself in narrow, shadowy space that seems like a basement, with discarded building materials left under the steps. Passing through a curtain, the next space is completely dark, but for a very dim light bulb at the far end of the room. The room has a damp smell and there’s a disorienting, humming sound, and before your eyes can adjust to the gloom you have to feel your way along the sticky walls to progress.

When you get to the end of the womblike chamber you are met with a big, wooden wall that blocks your advancement. There a sense of panic as you blindly try to discover a way around the wall, as you also consider turning back. Feeling the wall, you find a handle that opens the gate to a closet-size space with a humidifier, which has been making the pulsating sound. Passing through another curtain, you come into the light of a larger, divided room with rough, dingy walls. There’s a long-haired head wrapped in plastic on the floor of the first side of the space and a string that stops you from going to the other side, where you observe an electrical cord coming from a wall and a sheer piece of fabric hanging lifeless from the ceiling.

“I’ve always been very interested in architecture. The procession, in the way that you enter a space and the way that you carry through it to the next space is really important to me,” Gordon shared. “I’m not interested in just a pure epidermal visual surface to the work. There are things behind the walls and things that you can’t see that elicit an unconscious or subliminal response. There are certain voyeuristic elements, and I suppose there’s a certain sexual undertone, as well as the suggestion of violence, too.”

Creating an uncanny experience for the viewer, Gordon consider each space a station on the tour. He refers to the first space as “The Grey Room,” the space under the stairs as “The Love Nest,” the darkened room as “The Dungeon,” the closet-like corridor as “The Last Hole” and the final gallery, which is a doppelganger to the entry space above, as “Hardcore.”

Each room has its own particular scent, developed by the artist with the help of a perfumer. The smells are not meant to attract as much as they are to repel. Gordon has also been studying with a scenic designer to make the effects as real as possible, without making the installation theatrical nor narrative. His intention is that the work be seen within an art context, while rubbing up to real life experiences.

Besides Duchamp’s enigmatic installation in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, other related artworks are Yves Klein’s compelling 1958 exhibition The Void, where he emptied Galerie Iris Clert in Paris to fabricate nothing but an atmosphere, and Justin Lowe, Jonah Freeman and Alexandre Singh’s 2008 project Hello Meth Lab in the Sun, a paranoiac procession through a series of decrepit chambers, where you eventually exited through a refrigerator, at Ballroom Marfa in Texas.

“There’s a womblike aspect to all of my work, but that can change from something that’s totally innocent to something that has connotations of violence or isolation or confinement, along with feelings of alienation,” said Gordon. “That’s a reason why I want people to experience my projects alone, with their own thoughts.”

May 22, 2018