Sikkema Jenkins & Co

Ryan Johnson: Description of a Struggle

Ryan Johnson: Description of a Struggle

Thursday, October 21, 2010Saturday, December 4, 2010


New York, NY USA

Concurrent with Jorge Queiroz’s show, the gallery will present Ryan Johnson’s exhibition Description of a Struggle, which takes its title from the Kafka short story of the same name. The use of this title is intended to reflect the sequence of contradictions at play in this group of objects that attempt to cohabitate the tensions between sculpture, photography, and painting.

Spread across both rooms of Gallery 2, large totemic constructions placed on an expanse of artificial blue carpet create the initial impression of an absurdist playground comprised of suspended shapes, arcing limbs and brightly colored forms wearing shoes. Here, pictorial devices are staged within and against three-dimensional form, playfully drawing out space from flatness and compressing actual dimensionality.

Johnson’s use of medical casting tape - the same material that doctors use to wrap broken limbs - accentuates the stillness of the sculptures as it is a product explicitly designed to arrest movement. Other materials on display include paper, wood, acrylic paint, stainless steel, readymade shoes, and rebar. In several works, the Futurist’s idea of “absolute motion” comes into play as ‘time’ itself seems to be treated like a physical material. An example of this is a sculpture titled Ancestors, which consists of a twelve-foot tall tripod-like figure with an outstretched limb that suspends a mobile. Visible on two of the circles in the mobile are images of a recently discovered baby mammoth paired with a photograph of an adult elephant from Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies. One shows an immobile specimen petrified for 40,000 years in river silt while the other depicts the fixed instant of 2/1000ths of a second created by exposing a light-sensitive plate to an elephant in motion. Both appear to be walking, frozen in near identical ‘poses’ mid-stride.

Another work, titled Occident, highlights the ‘silence’ and stillness that sculpture and photography often share. In this piece, Muybridge’s famous photograph of a racehorse galloping at full speed is characterized as an oversized hobby-horse housed in an emphatically stationary figure. Although seemingly straightforward, Johnson’s painted constructions are difficult to pin down as they inhabit a paradoxical space, a hybrid of illusion and materiality.