“Alexander de Cadenet”

by Edward Lucie Smith

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“Alexander de Cadenet” by Edward Lucie-Smith
(Unicorn Publishing / University of Chicago Press)

Alexander de Cadenet is a restless intercontinental polymath whose new book is more like a group show catalogue than a monographic survey-even one spanning nearly 20 years. With multiple painting, sculpture, and photography series, and with styles and techniques from the digital to the aggressively analogue, the book is lively and eclectic even as its range risks fragmenting. Text by Edward Lucie-Smith, a critic who’s also a photographer and poet, weaves a useful meta-narrative of the artist’s long preoccupation with the material functioning of our perceptions. The pinnacle of this conceptual investigation comes in the Inversions-heavily processed digital captures made from 2013-15. Photoshop has a reputation for illusion and deception, upending the trope of photography’s truthiness. While de Cadenet depicts an array of complex etants-donnes including tree branches, dry thickets, sharp brambles, architectural patterns, cracked desert earth, and junkyard piles, his presentation is ostentatiously, pleasingly manipulated to emphasize their falsehood. They’ve a lot in common with the Skull Portraits in which people are depicted by colorized X-ray, sometimes with personal objects like jewelry that give the overall effect of still lifes. Both series recall the conceptualist gravitas and flashy Pop hyperstyle of the 1980s, in which glamor equated to artifice. The paintings explore various approaches to abstraction, from single-stroke expressionism to ideographic and experimental textural strategies. Sculptures made from meteorite-derived metal depict banal subjects like chewed gum or half-eaten apples. The artist emphasizes that their “true” meaning is achieved only upon being told that they are extraterrestrial in origin and referential in content to the Old Testament-thus highlighting the artist’s role as information manipulator. His newest works are the Life Burgers, solid silver or gold-plated sculptures, intimate in scale, ornate in crafted detail, in which wild animals perch as garnishes atop sandwich buns overstuffed with cars, watches, and various trappings of wealth and leisure. A bit rococo and sophisticated in their satire, like all the disparate works in the book they speak to the material and spiritual imbalances of human society. -SND