Allan Wexler is one of those figures whose work is difficult to classify within conventional boundaries. Working since forty five years in the fields of architecture, design and fine art, Wexler explores human activities (especially daily rituals such as dining, sleeping and bathing) and their relation to the built environment.
According to Aaron Betsky:
Allan Wexler is an artist whose gallery objects brings us back to first thing: how we keep rain off our heads, how we define space, how we measure our time. He elaborates on these simple acts in form. (…) Wexler accomplishes this revelation in scale models of our reality. He reduces the complexity of our routines into totemic objects. These activities let us stage a ritual re-enactment of daily practices that is up to us as viewers to invent. Wexler makes basic shapes that he elaborates beyond function. He represents what is real in reality itself, and then makes it impossible to come to any simple understanding of his work. Eminently simple yet complex in its implications, Wexler’s work stands as a paradigm for a practice of making, which is beyond either art or architecture.
(Excerpt from Aaron Betsky’s introduction for the 1999 catalog to the exhibition Custom Built: A Twenty-year Survey of Work by Allan Wexler which traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati and The Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis)
Breaking Ground (2011-2014) is a series of images taken from cray models depicting man’s first interaction with landscape, through the act of excavating. That is, “turning solid into void into solid“.
From the author’s description of the project:
Breaking Ground explores man’s first actions and interactions with landscape. A shovel is forced into ground. We lift earth skyward. We turn solid into void into solid. The sculpture and photo-based images in this exhibition define these First Acts.
My works take you on a journey through an invented history of architecture and civilization. They help you see the non visible, to hover somewhere between the distant and the intimate, to question drawing and photography and to see the ancient in the contemporary. I want to make the physical into a transcendent experience.
This work is titled Sheathing the Rift. All of these images originate as a landscape sculpted from plaster and white museum board. The plaster, the chisel, the scrapers and the files become my “actual” soil, shovel and rake. The camera allows me to enter the lens is my eyes. The photo captures a memory. It’s Photo-shopped, printed in twelve parts, tiled together by aligning registration marks, glued to a wood panel creating one surface. Graphite and colored pencils re-touch, highlight and re-shade. Matt medium is applied and a final coat of Carnauba wax is buffed. My images are constructed like a builder constructs a building.
The seeds for this exhibition originated during my fellowship at the American Academy in Rome in 2005, where I chanced upon On the Art of Building in Ten Books by Leon Battista Alberti. This Renaissance primer on architecture inspired my works in Breaking Ground. They take us back to first shelters, basic principles and simple acts in and on the land.
With this work titled Landscape: Excavation and Repair, a simple rectangular hole is excavated into the earth. The edge broken away is reinforced with plywood and two by four’s. We feel the weight of the earth pushing against the buttressed wall. We are drawn into the hole.