Thea Djordjadze is Georgian, and the letters that follow “Explain Away” in the title of her exhibition at Sprüth Magers are the equivalent—in the Georgian alphabet—of the abbreviation i.e., made open-ended by lacking an object. Along with the conventional sense of “explain away” as discounting or minimizing, to explain is to narrow down to a particular interpretation, and away suggests freedom and flight.
These qualities of containment and open-endedness reflect the contrasts that characterize Djordjadze’s practice. Her installation at Sprüth Magers included a room-size gridded structure of black-stained wood that resembled the skeletal framing of a house. The grid was inlaid in places with white and blue panels, making it reminiscent of the early modernism of Mondrian or Rietveld. Djordjadze arranged a number of objects of a sharply contrasting esthetic in the space enclosed by the sculpture. A decorative carpet and a lump of hand-molded plaster lay on a low platform. Several gesturally painted plywood constructions—somewhere on an axis between painting and sculpture—were mounted on the structure, and more appeared on the gallery walls. These panels looked homely and handmade against the austere geometry of the enclosure, just as the lumps of plaster seemed vulnerably figurative. The artist’s Bauhaus and De Stijl quotations offset her stagy evocations of primitive creativity. The installation might be a metaphor for how mainstream Western museum culture (exemplified here by the 20th-century avant-garde) frames the artwork of other cultures as quaint relics.
In the more intimate spaces of Micky Schubert gallery, small sculptures (all works untitled, 2009) were again presented in conjunction with one larger work. Djordjadze follows her own intuitive abstract logic, but these mainly wall-mounted objects are also vaguely representational, resembling clocks, bulletin boards and—in the largest piece—a staircase. Contradiction is the operative mode. The application of paint to a wooden box is nuanced and layered, but this estheticism is as soon disowned by makeshift carpenty. The staircase sculpture leads emphatically nowhere, and where it ends, at chest height, stands a sheet of glass painted opaque white on the back side. Black doodles on the front suggest an abandoned image; the frame around the glass has only two sides. Purpose is thwarted, resolution rejected, image denied. The sculpture seems to suggest, symbolically, that narrative and image are disposable motives to bring us to engage with the futility of making things—that the destination is only a pretext for the journey.
Photo: View of Thea Djordjadze’s exhibition “Explain Away,” 2009; at Sprüth Magers.