Peter Coffin, You Are Me
Artist Robert Irwin has said of art: "What we are really dealing with is our state of consciousness and the shape of our perception." Coffin's practice playfully suggests that our inability to explain phenomena is perhaps more liberating than restrictive.
Peter Coffin’s third solo show in New York confirms his penchant for a provocative generosity that fuses aspects of the work of John Cage, Michael Asher and James Lee Byars with strategies akin to those of the Pied Piper. It also emphasizes Mr. Coffin’s Duchampian inclination to use what is already out there, if not as intended. “You Are Me,” the show’s title, is from an ad that the artist Steve Kaltenbach placed in an issue of Artforum in the late 1960s. A sound piece in the foyer turns the gallery’s computer keyboards into musical instruments: bell-like notes chime when it, and the assistants, are working. The gallery’s office has been converted into a woozy Op Art rainbow paradise by a continuous row of graduated three-color posters familiar from rock ’n’ roll concerts, carnivals, kiosks and the work of Allen Ruppersberg. (They were made by the Colby Company in Los Angeles. The Colby logo appears on the prints, which use the Colby colors in all 80 possible combinations.) A video wall of 30 monitors showing mostly wild animals at play is a charming no-brainer. The centerpiece is an elaborate miniature roller coaster that is actually an operating dry cleaner (or coat check) conveyor belt installed upside down; its small tabs suggest a long, tiny train as well as the endless production of art. When the colorful bouquet of helium-filled balloons tied to one of them comes into view, the scale shifts shockingly: you will either see the apparatus for what it is or the balloons as monstrously giant. Either way, they are released skyward every day at closing time in front of the gallery, floating back into the wild, to play.
Peter Coffin is one of the best artists to emerge in New York in the last five years. In the past he’s sung to plants and pieced together rainbows. For his third New York solo show, Coffin is at the top of his form presenting a room-filling sculpture with an industrial conveyor belt that sports a cluster of balloons. (At the end of each day the balloons are released; you can sign up to release them yourself and appear in the piece’s eventual documentation.) The 80 psychedelic prints based on convention posters are excellent, and “Incidental Music,” in which the typing of the gallery staff is translated into sound that you can hear on the sidewalk, is a wonder. Coffin is a smart combination of magician, Pied Piper, philosopher, trickster, Bruce Nauman, and someone who just really cares about experience.