Sculpture Reveals Secret Interior Behind a Gallery Wall at Spaces

Friday, January 26, 2007
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Pristine white walls function as the ultimate neutral background in contemporary art galleries. They allow light to fill the room and hide architectural details that can distract viewers from focusing on the important stuff: the art.

But in the case of Jake Beckman's new untitled sculpture, on view at Spaces gallery in Cleveland through Friday, Feb. 9, an otherwise standard gallery wall is ripped open to reveal a mysterious, cavernous space.

Viewers can peer inside a gaping hole in the wall and find an intricate network of pipes and wiring, which Beckman created as an exaggeratedly complex version of what would normally be found behind interior walls.

Copper water lines are configured to form tangled knots, which leak just enough to appear moist. The presence of electrical lines and a faint, hidden light source create a frightening sense that these elements are something more than the benignly functional components of common plumbing and electrical systems.

Like a human chest opened up for heart surgery, Beckman's sculpture conveys a sense that viewers are getting a temporary, privileged glance at things that are normally neatly tucked away. In this sense, he exposes the idea that a standard white gallery wall is simply a skin, masking gutlike networks that we generally don't want to see.

At the same time, the piece functions as a critique of sorts, questioning the convention of unblemished gallery walls as virtually invisible backdrops for art.

Using this reading of the piece, some of its elements are superfluous, especially a series of chains attached to clamps, which stretch across the surface of the gallery wall as if they are holding the hole open. It's not believable that these chains are actually pulling the space open. More important, they activate the white walls of the gallery, which contradicts the conceptual core of the piece.

Beckman's sculpture is not part of Spaces' current group exhibition, "Legal Aliens," up through Friday, March 9. It is an installment in the nonprofit gallery's ongoing SpaceLab program, conceived as an outlet for younger artists (including students) who want to create an experimental piece, but may not have developed enough work to have a full-scale exhibition.

SpaceLab is unlike any other program at any other Cleveland-area art venue. Whereas most galleries plan exhibitions a year or more ahead of time, Spaces accepts SpaceLab proposals year-round and rotates the installations every few weeks.

In Beckman's case, his sole sculpture functions well on its own. In fact, it's difficult to image a whole room full of them working as effectively. Part of its strength is the element of surprise it creates in a gallery full of more traditionally installed works.

A 2005 graduate of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Beckman was born and raised in Cleveland. He has participated in four group exhibitions in the city in the past year, including Spaces' recent group show "Street Repairs."

With the addition of his SpaceLab piece, Beckman is quickly establishing himself as a notable emerging artist, sure to stand out from the background.

Spaces is at 2220 Superior Viaduct in Cleveland. Call 216-621-2314 or go to www.spacesgallery.org.

Tranberg is an artist and writer living in Cleveland. Art Matters is a column that runs weekly in Friday covering the area art scene. To be considered for publication, items about shows or openings must be received three weeks in advance. Mail to Plain Dealer Art Critic, 1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114, or fax to 216-999-6269.

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