Alex Hubbard, Art Papers
Alex Hubbard at Maccarone, New York, NY
Originally published in Art Papers
There's an aggressive, if comic, streak of nihilism that runs through nearly all of Brooklyn-based artist Alex Hubbard's short videos. In various pieces from the past few years, he has chain-sawed through sheetrock, poured hot tar on Mylar balloons, and pounded mirrors with a mallet, demonstrating a palpable delight in demolition. But all of the destruction simply emphasizes the physical, calling to mind the early videos of Bruce Nauman, in which the artist recorded himself performing absurd and repetitive exercises, alone in his studio. Where Nauman used his own body as a vehicle for physical expression, Hubbard deploys a combination of found objects and more conventional art-making materials to create work that might best be described as "sculptural situations." Although his videos often include natural optical effects—in which space appears confused or contradictory—he goes to great lengths to expose his means of production. Thus, one observes his hands conspicuously intruding the frame, lights abruptly unplugged, and mirrors which reflect the off-screen gaze of the camera. The result is a gray area between the time-based nature of performance and the documentary aspects of video, with plenty of allusions to painting and sculpture forcibly crammed in.
In Somebody had to do it [Maccarone, January 29-March 6, 2010], Hubbard has dialed back the ultra-violence with three videos that show the artist building teetering sculptures from the familiar clutter of basements and garages. Rather than inflict extravagant abuse on them, he simply piles objects in rickety constructions, letting them quickly collapse without his interference. In Upstairs #1, 2010, he builds a wobbly foundation of a push lawnmower propped up by a log, before decorating it with a bucket, a bouquet-like cluster of holly berries, an empty water jug, weed-killing spray, a plunger, a pickaxe, and so on. As with the other two videos, it concludes with the ad-hoc structure crashing to the floor. Here, Hubbard's arrangement of quotidian objects, which cast dramatic shadows against a raw canvas backdrop, reference traditional still life painting, in which an instant is ostensibly preserved in an image. But as the arrangement is developed, complicated, and ultimately dismantled, the video distills the basic arc of artistic production: the creative impulse, the ensuing gesture, and the spectacular failure to realize what one imagines.
If the ephemeral structures Hubbard builds invariably culminate in disintegration, there are abundant moments of lyricism, even painterly composition that surface throughout their fleeting life-spans. In Downstairs #2, 2010, an orange extension cord, yellow motor oil container, and red gas can deliver a splash of vibrant color, stressing the deliberation behind such seemingly haphazard assemblages. That these videos, which are projected vertically on steel frames, are meant to be considered in relation to painting is made plain by two distinct bodies of paintings that constitute the remainder of the exhibition. In his Coastal Blues series, 2010, Hubbard has silk-screened enlarged pages of a seafood restaurant menu on top of various mottled rainbow palettes. The paintings on view in Maccarone's south gallery, on the other hand, are abstract and bright. For these canvases, the artist appears to have vigorously rolled and squeegeed oil paint and resin into flat stretches of uninterrupted color and thick, pooling concentrations. The effect hints at some combination of Abstract Expressionist color field and action painting. Though Hubbard's paintings are considerably less compelling than his videos, their divergent strategies—one mechanical, based on facsimile; the other expressive and more gestural—illustrate the tension that makes the videos so absorptive and vexing. As he presents unique, unrepeatable actions in a reproducible and infinitely re-playable format, our expectations about the singular nature of performance and the primacy of the art object all come tumbling down.