Micah Lexier's Working as a Drawing documents the artist's fascinating history
Micah Lexier: Working as a Drawing
At the Burnaby Art Gallery until November 11
Micah Lexier must be the busiest artist in Canada. Acclaimed for his conceptual drawings, sculptures, installations, books, and collaborative projects, he certainly is one of the most creative. In addition to his newly minted exhibition and bookwork at the Burnaby Art Gallery, he has just closed a two-person show (with Winnipeg artist Michael Dumontier) at Artexte in Montreal and will see its companion publication spotlighted at the New York Art Book Fair this fall. He also recently designed a wall work at the Drake Hotel in Toronto and produced a subtle installation for Oh, Canada, the prestigious survey of contemporary Canadian art on view through April 1, 2013, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
All of this in one short period in a 30-year career that boasts some 90 solo shows, nationally and internationally, and a correspondingly impressive number of group exhibitions, artist’s books and catalogues, temporary and permanent public artworks, private commissions, collaborations with writers, and web projects. Oh, and did we mention that Lexier is also a generous curator of other people’s art?
The BAG show, Working as a Drawing, brings together 470 works—never intended as finished drawings—sifted out of the thousands that compose the Toronto-based artist’s archive. Each of these working drawings, made between 1980 and 2012, is executed on standard 8.5-by-11-inch paper, vertical in format, identically mounted in thin white frames, and installed in grids on the white walls of the main and second-floor galleries. As with the overall exhibition, each horizontal line of each grid is intended to be read chronologically, left to right, like text. The installation is pure and pristine, without any labels or didactic panels, and beautifully suited to the artist’s idea-popping practice. (Look to the 512-page bookwork, titled Working as a Drawing, for an explanatory essay and dates for each drawing. And kudos to BAG director/curator Darrin Martens for having the vision and the ambition to pull this wonderful show and book together.)
The definition of a working drawing here is broad and includes artlessly hand-wrought originals in pencil, ink, and felt-tip pen, as well as photocopies, faxes, and computer printouts. “Computer fuck-ups”, too, as the artist laughingly revealed at a recent media preview. There are scribbled words and sketchy images that describe plans for more permanent artworks, instructions to fabricators, notes to curators, exhibition floor plans, samples of bookbinding material, appointment times jotted on Post-it notes, diagrams of display furniture, wordplay, mathematical calculations, appropriated illustrations and text, and ink marks that have bled from one page to another. The image used on the show’s poster is a photograph of prototypes for a private sculpture commission, marked by the artist to show where the legs should be placed.
Not surprisingly, the exhibition highlights a number of Lexier’s recurring themes and motifs. These include his interest in systems, processes, measurements, and mathematical calculations, and his attraction to found objects and everyday materials. Also revealed are his remarks on the passing of time; his enjoyment of wordplay; his fondness for coins; his deployment of arrows, lines, and geometric figures; and his unabashed engagement in the solipsistic mated to the systematic. An example of the latter is his repeated use of the sentence “I am the only Micah Lexier.” In this verbal assertion, which unfolds mathematically, each successive word is one letter longer than the one before.
The exhibition and book document a fascinating history, not only of Lexier’s career but also of the evolution of an aesthetic closely linked to conceptualism. This incidental visual appeal has something to do with our enduring delight in the evidence of the human hand, even as that hand dials up a number on a fax machine, sends instructions to an anonymous fabricator, places paper clips on a scanner, or staples a scrap of cardboard to a blank page. Whatever the cultural theorists have to say about it, mark-making remains a fascinating activity.