More or less everything that Adam Gordon makes is about painting, even when it’s not. Even when it’s a long, darkened home garage on the Parisian periphery, with a corridor composed of a singular LED beam clamped to a chair that you must walk around to get to, where a fluttering plastic curtain lays waiting for you to pull aside in order to enter a coil heater–warmed chamber with a chocolate-gone-bad scent. There, a small window compels you to look inside, like the staggered slats of Marcel Duchamp's Étant donnés. Because even here, the 36-year-old artist's work is about using composition and light to scare up emotions—it’s just that in this case, the artist manipulates time and architecture rather than his traditional pigment and linseed oil. That acute discomfort one experiences staring through the neatly framed keyhole of his recent Parisian installation at Galleria Zero is not so dissimilar to the upset caused by Duchamp’s woman spread-eagle, holding a candle in Étant donnés. This time the scene is not graphic, but rather quietly horrific. Spoilers to follow.
The fact that Gordon’s work can even have spoilers is emblematic of the ways he often sits in opposition to his peers. He does not have social media. He forbids installation shots (lest someone else take it upon themselves to distribute them on social media). He requires most exhibitions be experienced one at a time, without the comfort of a phone, and usually at night. These stipulations, which may seem petty to some—and are outright barriers for others—actually do something for Gordon’s work, like any formal decision. “I like setting up a place where you can, just for a moment, be as alone as you ever really get,” he says. “Art is a space where you can carve that out."
Rare experiences sans social approval are Gordon’s call to arms. He knows a casualty of his cause is alienating people, but he embraces that as the nature of the work, and a way to struggle against speed for speed’s sake. Gordon likes to let things creep. His installations and portraits and brooding monochromes of interiors (like the ones on view at the 2022 Whitney Biennial) all take weeks to come to life. Peeping through the hole in Paris, I held my breath. I wanted to stay, but I could see a person watching someone else and it made me shiver, de-spite the heat, wondering who was watching me. The plastic sheet sighed. I jumped.