I often think of Michael Fried, the critic who first denounced the intrusion of theater on art in the 1960s, fuming. Art has only become more theatrical since then, and, to be fair to Fried, in these installations, performances, and happenings, what could be a fruitful tension between objects (space) and events (time) is not always very well thought-out. Enter Enrico David, a London-based, Italian-born artist whose first solo show in the United States, currently up at Seattle Art Museum, is an affecting exploration of just this tension, of the middle zone between thing and idea.
The lights in the gallery have been turned off. Illuminating the various paintings, posters, and sculpture instead are handmade paper lamps hanging from wallpaper silhouettes of lampposts on the wall. The lamps bear the diamond patterns of a Harlequin's costume, a pattern that repeats across the show: on dodgy, winking figures wielding clubs; on contortionists with big teeth; on twin entertainers with droopy, malformed eyelids. The environment, like the commedia dell'arte tradition the mischievous character comes from, is a flexible allegory, rich with associations but open to many interpretations. Where are we, exactly? When are we?
The single sculpture resembles a mysterious relic from an archaeological dig. Some of the paintings are graphic, like posters, like ephemera from some long-finished event. You wander around in this dimly lit environment, experiencing something in the present, but it's as if the whole thing were both a documentation of something that has already happened and its reenactment with a twist. The twist comes from the incompleteness of the documentation, the way all of these images feel related but don't quite lead back to any one thing, except the artist himself.
This Bulbous Marauder (pretty great title) is not the definitive Bulbous Marauder, either. There are other shows by this artist with this title, and, further complicating things, each object in this show is separately labeled and titled Bulbous Marauder, and this is not the whole set of objects with that title, just a selection of them. In other words: More is out there.