“Paper-Scissors-Stone,” the most recent show by Belgian artist Leon Vranken, got off to a powerful start with Flowing Line, 2014, a jet of water noisily shooting out of a circular pit cut into the floor, enclosed by a white railing. As with Study of a Vertical Line, 2013-the thirty-six-foot-high fountain and ascendable scaffolding structure that the artist erected at the Middelheim Museum, an open-air sculpture park, in Antwerp, Belgium, last year-visitors could experience the top of the water jet, here by moving up one floor within the building. The fountain spouted right through a neat hole in the ground-floor ceiling, emerging upstairs as a modest squirt of water, once again encircled by a white railing. With the exception of the fountain, Vranken left the ground floor distinctly empty; he had stripped the spaces and returned the architecture to its bare state.
Upstairs, by contrast, Vranken tackled every room with a different intervention, showing the precise conceptual focus yet broad material range of his by now decadelong practice. The exhibition, the artist commented, could be seen as a retrospective with new works. Just as the children’s game after which the show was named is played without the objects it evokes but merely through gesture and sign, Vranken offered an exquisite play on the differences between sculpture as matter and as image, as object and as intervention. Delicately, Vranken played out the different relationships to gravitational pull and to bodily perception implied by each. Paper-Scissors-Stone, 2014, includes five towering stacks of paper with high-resolution prints of five types of marble, topped by hand-sculpted, organically shaped stones of the very same marble. To delineate the spatial expanse of the installation, the artist replaced a rectangular portion of the existing gray linoleum flooring with a new, yellow one..
Bulk, 2014, looks like a pedestal that’s been cut into horizontal planes separated by wooden rods, suspending the familiar distinction between the support and what’s supported. Horizon, 2014, is a brick wall, but rather than being built up from the floor, Vranken’s wall appears as if it had been built down from the ceiling, and rests on steel struts that hold it about halfway between the floor and ceiling, at once perceptually cutting up and flipping the gallery space..
Similarly delicate spatial cuts were effected by the hand railing that had been installed along the perimeter of the gallery to contain Paper-Scissors-Stone, or by the almost imperceptible white string running at the same height as the base of Horizon along the perimeter of the next room. Suspended just off the surface of the walls, the tin rope distributed eight untitled digital C-print prints, all 2014, which were the result of elementary exercises of cutting up both materials and images, either by hand or digitally. An additional vertical caesura was provided by the water spattering through the floor in the middle of the space..
The final room contained a lineup of miscellaneous sculptural elements (Untitled, 2014), including wooden racks, vitrine, an ellipsoid wooden balustrade, and pedestals bearing stacked stones, all of which were reflected in a mirror that covered the full surface of the back wall. Their utter material refinement, polish, and precision had a peculiar effect. They disclosed how measure and calculated the playfulness and humor of this work really is. Luckily, the roaring sound of the fountain that pervaded all the galleries provided a vital counterbalance.