The gallery’s windows were covered with paper. Entering hesitantly, one realized that this was in fact an artwork, not the conventional means of signaling an installation in progress. Consisting of long, loosely applied strips of wallpaper—each with a distinct pattern of stripes, tree branches, or flowers—Returns Blind, 2010, may be read as wrapping for retail items that once inhabited this storefront space. Much of Hadley+Maxwell’s collaborative practice can be interpreted as clever, conceptualist gestures—like sticking wallpaper to windows—that slap together texts, sounds, and things in ways that playfully resist being packaged as art products in any traditional sense.
A more blunt juxtaposition is forefronted in The Jury, Like the Chorus, Draws its Voice from the Thickness of the Air, 2009: One of the drawers of a Louis IX-style commode, with intricate arboreal inlays, is replaced by a white Ikea-like drawer, projecting deep into space; the starkly modern receptacle is densely inhabited by a dozen aged radios, tuned to different stations and broadcasting a cacophonic mixture of languages and lyrics. This curious assemblage can still be considered furniture, as a retail display surface for antiquated appliances, and may be heard and seen as a statement of controlled chaos, associated by the artists with a baroque sensibility. The abruptly absurd humor provided by this contraption, with its whimsical rows of protruding antennae, is tempered by a gradual appreciation of the work’s well orchestrated details, such as the sinuous curves of extension cords, carefully threaded through the center of the modern drawer, which exit the commode as one electrical snake, now a singular voice winding its way along the floor to an outlet.
Antique Chinoiserie Mantel for London Media Room, 2006-2010, features more furniture—in a photograph of an ornate mantelpiece, presented in a decontextualized state as a frame, placed upside-down on a worktable. Held in a holding pattern prior to its future and final site of display, one may contemplate its ornament—as well as how and why this artifact is being relocated, so that aesthetic enjoyment is encompassed by consideration of markets motivating the movement of precious objects. The in-process predicament of the mantelpiece is enhanced by the picture’s placement on a pine shelf, behind a freestanding, yet perfectly positioned, pane of glass. The photograph Verre Eglomisé Panels for Atlanta Hotel, 2006-2010, similarly depicts objects being prepared for public installation. Adorned with flowers and vegetal designs—and thus in dialogue with many other works in the show—the four mirrored panels either rest on the floor or lean against a wall. A bottle of anti-bacterial agent lies nearby, along with other signs of the restorer’s trade. As in the work of Louise Lawler, here cultural commodities are represented in a manner inviting ambivalence about our aesthetic admiration of them, as they are shown in contexts signifying their lack of readiness for consumption in any conventional sense.
The theme of reflection recurs in the installation Baroque Baroque (for Lady Milford), 2009. Projected onto a mirror on a gallery wall, a video depicts the reflected time-lapsed movement of the sun moving across a wall in a room. Recalling deconstructive photographic works by Michael Snow and John Hilliard that focus on the presence of the camera itself, one is struck by the sheer gorgeousness of this yellow celestial body, seen glowing and swelling in the “real” mirror, while the reflection on opposite wall of gallery depicts the silhouetted image of the camera itself against the backdrop of a cloudless sky. This sky is an elegant signifier for Hadley+Maxwell’s project in general: it may read initially as a digital blue screen that awaits imagery, but one realizes eventually that more content is no longer needed, or desired.