Paul Noble’s first solo show at Gagosian Gallery, dot to dot, is a symphony of contemporary British art at its most ornery. Camouflaged in amazing technical skill, tedious detail, and seemingly grand intentions are visions of a seventh grader’s wet dream. Turds stand as monuments amidst abstracted landscapes full of tits, cock, and balls while rocks form the shapes of copulating men and women, many in the 69 position. One of the large graphite drawings in the exhibition, Villa Joe, Front View (2005-2006), is a fantasy realm of the artist’s concoction, a sort of vacationing hot-spot in the “utopian” world he has created for himself. The vulgarities in this drawing are dispersed throughout an exhaustive and other-worldly landscape featuring countless rock formations that meld into a sky full of constellations. Noble’s main body of work centers around the fictitious “Nobsontown”, from which Villa Joe and many of the other drawings in the show are pulled.
Another large drawing from the series, Paul’s Palace (1996), is the artist’s rendering of his dream home, complete with all the teenage-boy amenities. Reminiscent of M.C. Escher, the draftsmen-style work features a ping pong table, trampoline, skating half-pipe, basketball court, and a room-size box of Jaffas, one of the UK’s most popular candies. To top it off, the sculptures of eminent British artist Henry Moore lie deserted in heaps on the surrounding seashore of the palace suggesting both adolescent impudence and an homage at once. All of the technical skill in the artist’s arsenal cannot counteract the intentionally childish content of this piece.
While the front gallery is lined with monumental drawings, the smaller gallery in the back is overtaken by three tables lined with small ceramic sculptures resting on pear wood bases. Described by the press release as gonshi, or ancient Chinese scholar rocks, the sculptures are designed for meditation on form and aesthetic appeal rather than content. The ceramic pieces themselves are not much to look at. Odd abstractions that attempt to follow organic formulas end up resembling failed figures from a high school pottery class, annoyingly bright color palette included.
The accompanying wooden bases are fashioned using many of the same globular forms and designs of the graphite drawings with an emphasis on curvilinear shapes that allude to elements of landscape. In contrast to the overly glazed and vibrantly colored ceramic pieces they support, the bases are sleek, streamlined and pleasing works that could stand alone as sculptures in and of themselves. The designs surrounding the base of the work Nine (2006-2007) is reminiscent of the almost alien formations and symbols present in Villa Joe, Front View and other landscape-based drawings. Aside from the gaudy finishing of the ceramics, the intricate and diminutive scale of the work in the back gallery is a wonderful contrast to the large-scale, monumental drawings preceding them.
Lest it be forgotten, there a few elements of installation included in dot to dot. An unfortunate aside to the otherwise technically strong exhibition, the ass-oriented Positive Negative and Negative Positive include a collaged black and white photo in the back gallery and a full-blown installation in the front gallery. Executed in a carnival game aesthetic, the installation features a hole in which the viewer can stick their head only to see themselves reflected onto a Penthouse-like image of a half naked woman bent over, exposing herself. The face of the participant is centered in the crotch of the figure, placing them in a potentially uncomfortable and hilarious position. It is with this “installation” that one may begin to make sense of Noble’s quote at the top of the accompanying press release for the exhibition, “The sky is above and there is the sea below and in between is the carnival.” Alright, so the artist interprets the world as one giant circus act. Any amount of lofty interpretation cannot mask the obvious juvenility of Positive Negative. Paul Noble just wants to be a wanker; he knows he can get away with it.
The second (and thankfully last) installation in the exhibit resides in a smaller third gallery that is easy to miss/avoid. Comprised of both an audio track and custom-made rugs, the viewer is advised to remove their shoes so they can step on the rugs and place themselves immediately underneath the large edifice containing the muddled soundtrack. As much as stepping on art gives a great satisfaction, the interactive element of the installation does not compensate for the lack of depth behind the actual audio. A strange and absolutely grating voice repeats the phrase “dot to dot” continuously. The point? Oh, who knows. Paul most likely just thought it would be cool.
Besides the beautifully rendered pear wood bases, another successful part of Noble’s Chelsea sideshow is the fabricated Curtains for Everyone. Colorful, oversized wooden beads painted in the shape of an hourglass hang in the entrance to the main gallery, providing a tasty clink for the visitor. Adding to the overall fun-ness of the exhibition, the curtains can literally be enjoyed by everyone, whether they are an unindoctrinated member of the general audience or a full-blown scholar.
The curtains, along with the sculptures, the carpets, and all of the installation elements, bring up the issue of authorship and production in Noble’s art. Obviously produced by a fabricator, the work joins in the grand debate on what is acceptable as art in a contemporary world where it seems that no work is fully completed by the actual artist. Surrounded by the plethora of produced objects, the authenticity of the graphite drawings even comes into question. One has to wonder whether Noble’s hand was the only one present in the creation and completion of the large and laborious works. It is, in fact, the technical skill of the drawings that legitimate the other, less talented pieces in the show. Theoretically, if none of the work in the exhibition was actually created and carried out by Paul Noble, the artist, then how does one view the works in the context of contemporary art? Easily. It would be no different from any other work lining the walls of the prestigious real estate in Chelsea. At the end of the day, dot to dot provides exactly what one expects out of any typical Young British Artist: artifice and ironic commentary with a large helping of outlandish behavior.