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Review: Francis Cape, Matthew Higgs

Review: Francis Cape, Matthew Higgs

Work of Francis Cape and Roy Mcmakin, respectively

Nicholas Knight

September 27, 2007

Francis Cape at Murray Guy (plus Higgs) (and McMakin, though absent)

There’s a nice group show at Murray Guy. Matthew Higgs includes some framed pages. They’re fun, and my favorite thing about them is the way they always demand an acceptance of all the little incidental material facts of their presentation: the raggedy glue along the torn edge of the page, a flattened crease, or the type from the verso showing through. It seems wildly immodest to say, but I think of these moments as a type of metaphysics. -Kind of like “wherever you go, there you are”? -Almost, but this doesn’t get past tautology. –OK, so the difference is that the presence of all these incidents is not necessary, but without them the meaning of the piece is irreparably diminished.

Which takes me to my criticism of the works, which is that the full presentation doesn’t withstand the close inspection that the book pages initiate. The frames are crummy, the tone of white feels ill-considered (if considered at all), the paint amateur-ish, the mats mismatched. I don’t point this out to be a connoisseur. I’ve been invited to look closely, and left hanging.

Anyway, I meant to make a couple comments about Francis Cape, especially in relation to Roy McMakin. Both use a highly-skilled language of furniture-making to create discursive objects. To get right to it, Cape’s work is more emotional and McMakin’s more philosophical. I find it really fascinating that both artists can put this traditional craft to such particular and inventive use, while remaining respectful of their inherited language.

Cape’s sculpture unfolds slowly, as you move through space. The full experience that emerges after making it all the way around a free-standing piece, or from one end to the other of a wall work, demands that the viewer think back to what he can no longer see. The changes must be held in the mind in order to be compared. In the sense that his architectural vocabulary has an “old world” feel (at least to this mid-westerner), this reliance on immediate memory catapults the act of remembering into a much deeper and more mysterious zone. A world brought to mind by the specifics of a physical setting, which is gone, or essentially historical, summons a set of emotions about the passing of cultural relics. The furniture of a lifestyle passes from invisibly functioning to assertively signifying.

Roy McMakin’s objects (formerly shown at Feature, Inc., but now represented by Matthew Marks) assert with a different mode. The discontinuities are aggressively present in a single field of view. At every turn, they contradict the viewer’s attempt to be absorbed by a historically legible referent. Because they insist on “what was and what never shall be”, their physical existence is soon consumed by speculation of a philosophical sort. Call it, “If not, then why not?” And of course there’s never a philosophically satisfying answer to this “why not”: there’s only, “because this is how it was, and therefore how it is”. A traditional craft, carefully practiced, is particularly capable of communicating this.

The close corollary question to “why not” is “what if”. In a historical tradition with clear conventions (such as the round table above), “what if” is askable, but “why not” is not really answerable. As a result, McMakin’s objects have a speculative clarity that is visual, destabilizing, and offers no conclusions.

I spent several years working in a woodshop. My skills are nothing like Cape’s or McMakin’s, but I understand the attraction to the craft and the urge to mess with it. Their dysfunctional products – disqualified from existing within their own happy heritage – instead take up residence in the parlour of artistic transformation: where the precision of material declaration dissolves into speculation, memory, and conjecture.

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