Defying categorization, the large-scale objects in “Peace Not Pacifism,” an exhibition by British-born, Berlin- based artist David Thorpe, embrace the antithetical esthetics of Minimalism and the Arts and Crafts movement (all works 2010). The first piece one saw upon entering the gallery was The Collaborator, a rectangular box—a “specific object” of sorts-raised off the floor on splayed wooden legs. Narrowly braced in wood, the panels that constitute its sides are painted in oil with interlacing floral patterns that could have been sourced from William Morris. Though visually intriguing enough, The Collaborator also emits a startling hum that is activated as spectators approach and fades as they pass: hence its witty title. This odd mixture of craft and technology was recapitulated in several smaller raised boxes. Their side panels are made of plaster decorated with leather vines and flowers, but rather than sound, a shockingly bright light could be viewed through a small square aperture in one side of each. You could not help but think of a film projector, though it’s difficult to imagine work less inclined to the photographic.
Likewise laboriously handcrafted, two monumental pieces consist of expanses of ceramic tiles glazed with lush, dark brown ornamentation: an imposing 10-foot-tall screen, Endeavors, and The Plague, stretching along the floor for 23 feet and looking like a cross between a Carl Andre sculpture and a palace pavement.
Thorpe initially gained recognition for two-dimensional cut-paper landscapes. Here, his work on paper consisted of a delicately painted five-part watercolor depicting bamboolike plants with elegant foliage. It could almost be a mock-up for scenic wallpaper, and, indeed, one wonders where the artist is heading. The recent, characteristically collaborative work at Kaplan represents a shift to more monumental formats and complex effects if not outright architectural ambitions. Based on the works in this fine show, I wouldn’t be surprised if Thorpe were to go on to fashion a highly developed, all-enveloping Gesamtkunstwerk.
Photo: David Thorpe: The Collaborator, 2010, wood, oil paint and sound system, 84 by 931⁄4 by 43 inches; at Casey Kaplan.