The Saturday after Walead Beshty’s exhibition Selected Bodies of Work opened at Regen Projects, the gallery experienced an electrical problem. Certain lights went down, and Beshty, who happened to be there, asked that all the lights be turned out until the problem could be fixed. So for a little while on that rainy day, visitors viewed his large, multi-colored photograms, smaller documentary photographs, and industrial sheets of folded copper, in dimness.
The artist’s attempt to define the parameters of an uncontrollable situation was fitting, given that the show, on view through April 5, reads as a push and pull between competing impulses: to submit to circumstances, to be entirely transparent about process, to follow a thought through to its outer limits — all the while presenting as deliberate, informed, and professional.
If you followed Beshty’s work when it started to get traction in the mid-2000s — around the time his Phenomenology of Shopping series showed at P.S. 1 in New York, and the Hammer Museum in LA showed his photos of an Iraqi diplomatic headquarters in East Berlin abandoned after the wall fell — you might have been surprised by the trajectories it took. The Shopping photographs, of Beshty shoving his head into various brightly colored retail displays, communicated anxiety in a self-effacing, funny way. The diplomatic photos, developed and displayed after airport X-ray machines damaged the film, communicated a weightier kind of anxiety over ownership and control. When he started sending rectangles of shatterproof glass around in a FedEx box, the damaged results were records of usually invisible but ubiquitous processes.
Since then, the systems and processes have taken over: X-ray damaged photographs with no referential imagery, shatterproof glass with no FedEx label involved. This has occasionally made it too easy to read Beshty’s shiny surfaces and colorful photographic accidents as pretty and abstract. But his current show, frenetic, ambitious, and sometimes misleading, prevents such a reading pretty well.
As soon as you enter the gallery, you hear buzzing from stacks of old electronic equipment skewered on poles, mounted on walls, and plugged in. Then there are the prints with printer glitches or visible handprints, once-polished copper that’s been handled and installed in odd places, and exquisitely polished aluminum left over from armatures used to make the copper forms. The surplus of experimentation mostly works, with the exception of the cacophonous ceramic sculptures made from byproducts from a ceramics studio in Guadalajara. They make you think of visceral artists like John Chamberlain and Noah Purifoy and pull you away from the more interesting questions the show invites about how to lose control while keeping it all together.