In his latest show at NCG Argyle presents a series of cardboard boxes printed with colourful, formalist abstract patterns. On the walls are a series of cardboard works - small boxes which seem to have been used as packaging for some commercial product, flattened as if ready for recycling.
Personally, I enjoy a trip to a large stationery shop. The products seem to suggest I can make myself a better person. I can start filing my papers, keep a proper diary, put messy things in tidy boxes. Argyle's work has been consistently interesting and he has often found something lyrical in the mundane. In this show Argyle's boxes touch on the world of high-end consumer design. I can't help but think of Apple packaging. I just know something great would have come in these boxes. Of course I know that nothing comes in these boxes. That is the appeal.
It is impossible not to think of Warhol's Brillo boxes, and even more so to think of Danto's essay 'the end of art' . Warhol used existing commercial graphic design to stand for the commonplace, reproducing the design on plywood rather than cardboard. For Argyle the form of the cardbord box itself is the signifier of the commonplace and auteur formalist abstraction is the motif. Danto argued that Warhol's Brillo boxes represented the end of the trajectory of Western art. (I am then reminded of Verwoert's analysis of 20th century art as a series of 'endings' - the end of painting, the end of sculpture). Argyle's move seems to keep the ball in play. There is optimism in his work. It is not that we live in a crushingly mundane world of mechanically produced aesthetics, Argyle seems to be suggesting, but that we find ourselves in a world where technology makes beauty a possibility within the mundane itself.
In this context, the boxes on the walls strike a dull note. Where the printed boxes on the floor are playful and wear their serious contribution to discourse lightly, the wall pieces seem academic and, well, brown. The possibility for manufactured objects to occupy gallery space and be read as abstract works already exists in the colourful boxes. The wall pieces seems to close the possibilities for the floor standing boxes, re-iterating just one aspect of the work.
Apart from this reservation, with this show Argyle seems to have extended his vocabulary and work and hints at interesting new developments to come.
By Sam Leach
Leach is an artist living and working in Melbourne. He was born in Adelaide in
1973 and moved to Melbourne in the early 90s. Leach completed his honours degree
in painting at RMIT in 2004 and is currently doing his masters. In 2006 Leach
won the Metro5 prize and the Geelong contemporary art prize. This year he was
a finalist in the Archibald. Leach shows at Nellie Castan gallery in Melbourne
(show coming up in June) and Sullivan and Strumpf gallery in Sydney