Graduate Fine Arts Building (IFT)
3001 S. Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007
NYTimes ART IN REVIEW
Merlin Carpenter: ‘Tate Café’
By ROBERTA SMITH
Published: May 17, 2012
Reena Spaulings Fine Art
165 East Broadway, at Rutgers Street
Lower East Side
Through June 3
For his fourth solo exhibition at Reena Spaulings Fine Art, the British Conceptual painter Merlin Carpenter, a perennial malcontent, is settling a score with its owners, John Kelsey and Emily Sundblad, by tricking out their gallery to resemble one of the retail spaces of an institution he heartily detests: the Tate Modern in London.
The gallery’s slightly elevated show space is blocked off with vaguely familiar dark-stained doors labeled “No Re-entry.” Beyond them lies a fairly convincing, if scaled-down and semi-functioning, facsimile of the Tate Modern’s cafe-bookstore, complete with low, square tables, black metal chairs and a bit of a banquette; a re-creation of the museum’s memorably narrow counter area outfitted with paper cups, drinks and packaged food printed with the Tate brand. (Appropriate to Mr. Carpenter’s view of the institution, much of it is rotting.) Also included are bright pink visitor comment cards and a large photomural that approximates the cafe’s Thames River view.
A small bookstore area concentrates on Spaulings-specific items: books by the Bernadette Corporation (the collective that Mr. Kelsey helped found in 1994); postcards of paintings by Mr. Carpenter and, for the home, two pillowcases printed with pages of signatures from the gallery’s sign-in book.
The motivation for “Tate Café” can be discovered in an 18-page interview-cum-press-release that Mr. Kelsey and Ms. Sundblad conducted with Mr. Carpenter. Alternately tedious, self-indulgent and insightful, it covers the misunderstandings and hurt feelings surrounding the dealers’ appropriation of Mr. Carpenter’s work for their contribution to “Pop Life,” a 2009 exhibition at the Tate Modern (in which they participated as an artist named Reena Spaulings). One of the offending works is a pair of tights printed with phrases from Mr. Carpenter’s graffiti paintings (“Die Collector Scum”) that was exhibited in the Tate’s cafe and is on display here.
This exercise in institutional critique as payback is all a bit hermetic and self-referential. But the cafe is a great place to sit and perhaps wade through the interview, savoring the public-private tension between the slightly mysterious labor-intensive environment and the attempted let’s-talk-it-out transparency of the printed words.
Tate Cafe Interview: http://www.reenaspaulings.com/images3/TATECAFE.pdf