Prior to his 2008 exhibition at Simon Preston, while running a Web search for the gallery’s address, Josh Tonsfeldt discovered a 1906 New York Times article about a physician’s horse that had gone missing while the doctor was on call; the physician (and the horse) had also resided at 301 Broome Street. The ensuing show, “Physician’s Horse Vanishes,” used a note from the artist to his dealer relating this discovery as its press release, and showcased videos, photos and sculptures that, truth be told, did not carry a convincing connection to the 1906 incident.
Some of the work on view at Tonsfeldt’s 2011 show at Preston took a chance encounter with a student named Jeremy as its premise. Jeremy, mistaking the artist for another Josh, friended him on Facebook. Tonsfeldt could not let the incident go—especially, I assume, after seeing Jeremy’s many uploaded photos of himself and friends posing near China’s Great Wall, the Taj Mahal and other international landmarks, taken during a semester at sea program. This show presented faded adapatations of the student’s photos printed on the reverse sides of photographic paper, accented by the artist with streaks of bright ink. In Andrew Taj Mahal (2011), for instance, among the remains of the original image are the mausoleum’s dome and the apparently jubilant Andrew with his arms flung skyward. These highly designed works poeticize the student’s Facebook pictures with a certain distilled grace.
Other works also relate to travel. A video titled Spring Itinerary 2009, fall itinerary 1926 (2010–11) features a woman’s voice reciting schedules coupled with seemingly unrelated footage of an oil field where workers play video games, burn socks and give the camera the finger.
For an artist to whom visual and thematic connections seem to be of primary importance, Tonsfeldt’s outing may have struck viewers as surprisingly incoherent. The 17 works (not counting those hovering in the gallery’s rafters and purposely hidden behind doors) included cement slabs adorned with real, spray-painted spider webs, a wall-mounted tire filled with fruit, and an earsplitting video showing an oil container being filled. These surely carry some significance for the artist, but we are left in the dark as to what that could be. The exhibition came across as the output of the active mind of an explorer grabbing at anything that can be used for the purposes of his art.
Installation View, 2011. Courtesy Simon Preson