The Landscape of Noir

The Landscape of Noir

Boyce’s custom-designed wallpaper surrounds visitors with geometric shapes that echo through the exhibition.

Martin Boyce: When Now Is Night, a retrospective exhibition that continues through January 31 at the RISD Museum, marks the Scottish artist’s first solo museum show in the US. In the past two decades, Boyce has produced a remarkable body of work – sculpture, installations and photographs – that has established him as one of the foremost figures in contemporary art. He represented Scotland at the 2009 Venice Biennale and went on to win the coveted Turner Prize in 2011.

This survey exhibition presents work drawn from Boyce’s 20-year career and is accompanied by a fully illustrated book of scholarly essays and previously unpublished plans, drawings, sketches and source materials that together provide unprecedented insight into the artist’s working process.

“Martin’s thoughtful observations on the intersections of art and design and the tension between our natural and manmade environments, as well as his multidisciplinary approach to art making, feel very much at home within the RISD Museum,” says Director John Smith.

The title of the exhibition, When Now Is Night, comes from a two-part installation Boyce originally presented in Switzerland and re-created at the RISD Museum. “Its suspended web of fluorescent lights and grid-patterned wallpaper characterize the modern city as a place charged alternately by wonder and anxiety,” notes Dominic Molon, the museum’s Richard Brown Baker curator of contemporary art. He collaborated with Boyce to design a survey that underscores relationships between works from different periods.

At a museum preview tour, Boyce talked about his ongoing interest in 1940s and ’50s film noir along with masks, which remain a constant in his work. They evoke a sense of absence and “act as portals between the real, inhabited space of the gallery and imaginary interiors and landscapes,” Boyce says.

In speaking about the custom-designed wallpaper incorporated into the exhibition, Boyce says that it “functions almost like a movie soundtrack, surrounding the viewer with repeating motifs.” The geometric shapes from the wallpaper reappear in his steel, glass and colored plastic gel windows and in the steel chandelier and bed frame that make up A Raft in the Roof (2009). Once he began to see letters in the repeated forms, he used this “found typography” to createFall (2012), a wall piece featuring the letters f-a-l-l tumbling through space.

Boyce’s fascination with Hollywood comes through in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The vanishing point perspective in his wallpaper was inspired by Saul Bass’ opening sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. His rough 1992 Interiors prints were actually created using Jagged Edge film stills of empty rooms. And his 1991 piece Chair (Noir) references the dramatic cinematic device of a fleeing protagonist jamming a chair beneath a doorknob as a barricade against an attacker.

Many of Boyce’s other pieces also take on personality and emotions that change over time. Now I’ve Got Worry (Storage unit) 1 (1997) features rough plywood panels, including one that reads “GO HOME THERE IS NOTHING 2SEE,” calling to mind the graffiti of burnt-out housing projects that were once models of progress and suggesting America’s societal slide from post-World War II optimism to darker times. “How do you make an inanimate object paranoid?” Boyce asks rhetorically.

“The great thing about doing a show like this is being reacquainted with older work and mixing up the chronology,” Boyce adds. “It’s such a joy when an object find its place in the room.”

A series of related programs is scheduled at the museum throughout the run of the show, including a gallery talkby Courtney J. Martin from Brown University and Chris Rose from RISD’s Furniture Design department on Wednesday, November 11, and a special scotch-tasting event on Friday, November 20.

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