Archived on Artforum
The photographs, sculptures, and assemblages in Walead Beshty’s “Selected Bodies of Work” derive from three series that span a wide range of approaches to the evidence of labor in artistic production—from the almost purely formal to the explicitly political.
Installed throughout the show, the first series evinces Beshty’s key interest in the photograph as a physical index that moves through space and time, and in the role of the laborers who circulate them. Collectively titled “Copper Surrogate,” 2014, the group features six monumental folded sheets of industrial copper, which are stippled with the fingerprints of unidentified installers. Also on view are photographs that show the hands of curators and studio assistants connected with the work, as well as clusters of highly polished, deceptively sculptural “Aluminum Remnants,” 2014—fragmented remains of the armatures that once propped up the copper pieces. A second body of work is directly concerned with the labor of the photographic apparatus and its breakdown. Nine of Beshty’s now-iconic contact prints appear with and without white traces of handprints registered during exposure, while explicit references to broken machines take the form of deconstructed printers strung along aluminum poles like cross-sectional diagrams and a MacBook with a hole drilled through its screen (Der Wille zur Macht [The Will to Power], 2014).
All the work described above could fit into a very loose category of “conceptual photography.” But in a group of sculptures produced by Beshty at Cerámica Suro (a Guadalajara manufacturer of commercial ceramics and artist editions), he moves away from photography and its instruments to focus directly on the political dimensions of globalized artistic production by presenting its by-products. The 2013 series of “Aggregate” assemblages, which were made with the manufacturer’s discarded ceramics and lurid Guadalajara tabloids, move beyond the trace of the photograph and into more tangible kinds of evidence. Taken out of context, these pieces hardly seem innovative, but alongside Beshty’s other work, they create a suggestive disconnect between the presentation of physical material as “real proof” in overtly political work and the more abstract explorations of photographic indexicality as a theoretical problem.