In “Metamorphology” the British conceptual artist Simon Starling presented eleven works from the past decade. Their layered narratives, although sometimes seemingly absurd, are nevertheless rife with political, social, and economic implications.
The exhibition, Starling’s first at a major U.S. museum, opened with a red 1974 Fiat the artist drove between Turin, Italy, where the automaker used to have its manufacturing plant, and Cieszyn, Poland, where the cars are now made. Once in Cieszyn, Starling replaced parts of the Fiat’s body with white, Polish-made parts to create a red-and-white patchwork resembling the Polish flag.
A pacifist narrative underlies Starling’s Autoxylopyrocycloboros (2006). In this madcap slide projection, Starling cruises Scotland’s picturesque Loch Long, which is also plied by nuclear submarines, in a steam-powered boat fueled by its own wood. It sinks.
Other works reflected Starling’s interest in the structures surrounding the production and reception of works of art. Bird in Space (2004) a heavy steel plate imported from Romania, alludes to the 1923 sculpture by Constantin Brancusi that provoked a tariff-related lawsuit with U.S. customs and led to the legal redefinition of an artwork. Here, as elsewhere, the intricate backstory was detailed in a wall text, providing context for work that might otherwise seem opaque or coy.
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 122.