Susan Meyer at Plus+Gallery, Denver. “Plato’s Retreat”
Denver artist Susan Meyer’s exhibit at Plus Gallery is best viewed within a context. Exploring territories as diverse and complex as architecture, philosophy, human sexuality, and psychology, it is her first solo in Denver in a few years, and it’s stunning.
The younger members of the art crowd won’t remember this historical fact (but you can be sure they will google it): Plato’s Retreat was an infamous swingers club in New York City in the pre-AIDS 1970s. Anonymous sex was the sole purpose of the club, which for all its libertine intent, forbade alcohol, and membership to gay men. Should that bit of background color our view of Meyer’s show? We’ll see…
Meyer’s exhibition combines both sculptural and media elements, but the piece that I want to focus on is a large construction entitled Plato’s Retreat, an architectural model, that suggests a structure of epic proportions. Layer upon layer of hexagonal cells evoke a horizontal hive, filled with hundreds of rooms. Scale is shown through dozens of small half-inch high toy male and female figures, usually naked. The “rooms” are made from colored plexiglas, which Meyer has used in all of her previous and beautifully crafted architectural sculptures. Surfaces are made of cardboard and stucco material, and running through the sculpture, potting soil, plants, wiring, and LED lights. Edges seem broken, crumbling, and sagging. The sculpture has the feeling of an obsessively-constructed model for a fantasy futuristic city, except a 1970s vision of the future. I am reminded of visionary architect Paolo Soleri’s drawings and plans for future cities, all modernist concrete and glass mega-structures. In this show, one can’t escape the sense of nostalgia for a past era’s view of the 21st century. Even the font chosen for Meyer’s show publicity has a 1970s feel. The difference is, this city is in decline.
Putting all these elements together: formal, historical, architectural, and cultural, some psychological and emotional meanings emerge. In dream imagery, buildings with many rooms symbolize the interior of the mind, and I am convinced Meyer is attempting to portray a psychological landscape, not unlike Piranesi’s fantastical drawings of imaginary buildings, metaphors for psychological states. The rooms and cells and spaces of Meyer’s sculpture are dauntingly complex, like a mind obsessed with human relations, secret sensuality, personal fears, and mad visions. Each room a thought, or a point in time; some are illuminated by small lights, others dark and hidden.
On another level entirely, one can’t dismiss the nominal reference to Plato, and his metaphysics of elevated thought, of a disregard for the senses or for finding truth in the material world. We are being asked by the artist to consider higher meanings in her work, to look beyond the surface. Many of Meyer’s cleanly-constructed colored plexiglas sculptures suggest a utopian future world; this structure is the dystopian, after-the-party decaying ruin.
What we are faced with in Meyer’s work is a mash-up of incongruous elements and ideas, complex and seemingly contradictory: a reference to a sex club and sexual freedom, platonic ideals, imaginary cities, psychological states, all included metaphorically in a building structure that appears to be eroding back into nature. Heady stuff, worth contemplating, and causing us to be mindful of our own society, and art’s high purpose.
thru November 24, 2012