Berlin-based Greek artist Yorgos Sapountzis (b. 1976 in Athens) stages performances and creates sculptures and videos that engage with public space, especially as it is defined by public statuary and monuments. The first New York solo for an artist with numerous European solo and group exhibitions over just the last five years, “Head Zest, New Walls” effectively presented a selection of new work.
Sapountzis’s sculptures usually feature plastic and aluminum tubing that frames squarish, brightly colored fabric panels; the results resemble sails or tents. These structures were used in a performance for the 7 1/2-minute video The Workers and Bathers, which itself was projected onto a screen of brown fabric in an assemblage that was purpose-built on-site. In the video, a small troupe of young men and women gather around a number of Berlin’s public statues. At times they do synchronized modern-dance-style movements that seem to riff on the sculptures’ poses; sometimes they place the fabric structures around the public monuments. It’s touchingly unclear whether they mean to censor or shelter them.
Because Sapountzis shoots at just seven to nine frames a second, the video has a funny jumpiness. Furthering its comic aspect is the drama and dissonance of Norwegian composer Øyvind Torvund’s soundtrack, by turns orchestral and electronic.
But what dominated the gallery was Reclame Food on the Ground, a sculptural installation stretching 17 feet long, 8 feet wide and 6 feet high. A multipanel, multicolored screen of fabric stands on a low aluminum platform; tubing extends like tent poles from this central structure to numerous tall jars, containing food and plaster, on the floor around it. (The central platform also rests on jars of food, and according to Subal, the food refers to basic human needs.) The title echoes Reklame, the German word for advertisement, as well as the English word “reclaim,” which resonates with the artist’s reclamation of public space in his performances.
Another group of works consists of 8-by-4-foot aluminum plates suspended from the ceiling, each adorned with swaths of fabric in an arrangement that suggests a Greek statue’s drapery or a figure in a jaunty pose—recalling Sapountzis’s performers. Each figure has a gray paper head made from photocopies of silver duct tape, which the artist wrapped around a public sculpture’s head—like a death mask or a Shroud of Turin—then removed and flattened. The taping gesture carries a strange tenderness even as it suggests desecration. The names of these works are variations on the title Reclame Head Zest.
Sapountzis’s work evokes modernist geometries, tent cities and Occupy-style encampments simultaneously, playfully interrogating public space as well as commenting obliquely on monumental figurative sculpture, a genre to which many contemporary artists have recently turned a thoughtful eye. This allusion surely has personal meaning for an artist born in Athens, with its ancient tradition of public statuary. Sapountzis takes up both perennial and timely issues with wit and lively intelligence.
Photo: View of Yorgos Sapountzis’s exhibition, showing (center) Reclame Food on the Ground, 2011, aluminum, fabric, glass jars, food and mixed mediums, 17 3/8 feet long; at Simone Subal.