Hailing from Copenhagen, where minimalist sensibilities are de rigueur, Thomas Øvlisen offers a series of planks, vigorously painted on both sides, that can be turned, flipped and rearranged by gallerygoers at will. The invitation comes without restrictions, though not entirely in the name of fun. Øvlisen wants audiences to mess with his pieces so he can capsize their ingrained notions of art’s sanctity. Pawing the artwork does feel somewhat sacrilegious, especially since it looks like serious-minded paintings, the results of repeated layering and scrubbing, not to mention considered execution.
Compounding the concern over damaging these objects is their deceptive appearance. Though they seem fragile, vulnerable and heavy, they’re nothing of the sort. Instead, they’re made from polystyrene foam blanketed in fiberglass, carbon fiber, even bedsheets from the home of the artist’s parents. They’re also coated in a protective sheathing of auto lacquer and enamel. The imagery on either side—evoking landscapes, doors, textiles, geometric compositions, surfboard designs and California sunlight—is compelling enough so that any possible arrangement makes for dynamic viewing.
Coconut fibers stuck to the top and bottom of each plank create a noise as you shuffle the works, adding an aural component to the optical experience—and a tropical vibe to the show overall. The appearance of weathering or effacement on each piece suggests an unfinished, in-flux state that, when added to the flexible presentation, plays into the subversive spurning of a grand artistic statement. Rather, Øvlisen challenges art’s permanence and purpose. The result may not be as seismic as, say, the work of Øvlisen’s obvious inspiration—Los Angeles “Finish Fetish” king John McCracken—but it’s fetish-shattering all the same.