Tobias Putrih at Max Protetch Gallery

Maybe it’s the ad posted in the entryway for a two-bedroom rental in Beacon, New York–only $1,750.00 a month!–but I could swear that the two installations at Max Protetch are Tobias Putrih’s bid for inclusion at Dia: Beacon. Too bad: Mr. Putrih’s cardboard sculptures–effigies as muscular as the Elgin Marbles and as light as the proverbial feather–were among the few worthwhile things included in Greater New York 2005. They heralded an artist of sculptural promise. The new pieces at Protetch trade that promise for imposing decoration, the stock in trade of Dia: Beacon. A step forward this isn’t.

Utilizing some strange species of milky cloth, Mr. Putrih has created a pair of encompassing architectural enclosures, tent-like funnels of space held aloft by a cascading series of hooks and wires. They’re meticulously crafted–that’s always welcome–and the overall effect is impressive and elegant, if not as transformative of space or material as Mr. Putrih intends. Learning that each piece refers to the movie screens at Anthology Film Archives doesn’t help–I mean, who cares? If a work of art doesn’t do its own heavy lifting, no amount of theoretical baggage will make it stronger. Artifice as its own reward is a feeble thing.

Not only has Mr. Putrih forsaken sculpture: He’s taken up multimedia. Quasi-Random Construction (2004) is a sound-and-video piece wherein a steady female voice coos into our ear about bending structures and “the suicide of love,” among much else. Without this sop to our technological age, I would never have figured Mr. Putrih for both a sloppy romantic and a pretentious bore; now I can barely figure him for anything else. Someone tell him that cardboard is where it’s at and Dia: Beacon is where it isn’t before he stumbles any further.

© 2005 Mario Naves

This article was originally published in the June 13, 2005 edition of The New York Observer.

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