For the last exhibition before reopening in her new space, Susanne Vielmetter turned to Sean Duffy—a fine choice. His work is steeped in nostalgia, and deals with instability, mutability, and the fungibility of original and copy. A kind of social archeology emerges from his handling of cultural artifacts and alterations of familiar objects. Despite the quantity and variety of work in “Can’t Stop It,” and notwithstanding its abundant humor, the exhibition sustained a dreamy, slightly melancholy mood.
Duffy is known for outfitting turntables with multiple tone arms and pairs of speakers. A record played on one seems to echo, out of synch with itself by a couple of beats. The Palette (all works 2009) grafts a three-armed model onto a painter’s workstation complete with brushes and tubes of paint as well as a handful of albums and a record cleaner, the whole equating sound and pigment. Dusty Springfield was spinning when I visited, and the familiar, punchy orchestration of “Jimmy Mack” was transformed into abstract, layered coloratura.
Of four wall works comprising acrylic-on-wood reproductions of classic album covers arranged in a grid, Los Angeles (roughly 9 by 33 feet) is the largest, giving new meaning to Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” Its 256 “records” are silk-screened in a few colors, usually out of register in a way analogous to the aural displacement of The Palette. Visual puns abound: the burning “X” on the cover of that seminal L.A. band’s “Los Angeles” album is hilariously related to the cover shot of “Dusty in Memphis,” in which the red-haired pop chanteuse cradles her chin in her hands.
Works such as Nickel Thimble and I Can’t Complain are variations on the workshop expedient of attaching storage jars by their lids to the underside of a shelf. Beneath 6-foot-long wood planks stained brown are dozens of odd-size jars, many with their product labels still attached, filled arbitrarily with cotton swabs, ear buds, wristwatch parts, yo-yos, crayons and so on; the occasional transistor radio dangles. Relocated in the gallery, this eccentric filing system looked a bit surreal.
Also on view were strong sculptures assembled from automobile parts, electric lights, portable fans and an engine hoist. Four works were made by removing the covers of glossy art magazines and cutting through the pages, with surgical precision, to constitute an image of a 45rpm record complete with colorful label and spindle hole, silhouetted on a whitish ground. It’s nice to think that music is latent even in the criticism of art.
Photo: Sean Duffy: The Palette, 2009, turntables, records and mixed mediums, 34 by 30 by 24 inches; at Susanne Vielmetter.