Art in America, February, 2000

Steven Brower at Lombard-Freid

Displaying genuine humor and an enormous amount of inventiveness, Steven Brower turned Lombard-Freid Gallery inside out as one turns out a sock. His installation, ironically titled "Utility," made use of usually invisible municipal systems which supply the gallery space with its operating lifeblood. Heat, electricity, telephone and waste disposal systems were brought front and center.

The installation featured a wandering tangle of wires and copper tubing connecting the utilities with 10 discrete objects dispersed throughout the gallery's public and private areas. Passage through them became a mazelike experience. Unexpected operational alliances were forged among a miniature observatory, a miniature steam engine (Brower is a professional model-maker), a small model of the moon hanging from the ceiling, a tiny electrical mast, a dam made from a toilet tank atop two industrial buckets, a kiosk bearing thoroughly useless information, a solar collector, an employee punch clock, a metal water fountain (the centerpiece of the exhibition), and a Styrofoam model of the gallery itself. In the artist's new, topsy-turvy gallery order, flushing the toilet supplied the dam's reservoir with fresh water, the ringing of the phone opened the dam, and the dam provided water for the steam-operated pumps to supply water to the fountain.

Instead of functional coherence. Brower offered visitors to the gallery anomalies galore by making the space's utilities beholden to a kind of anti-functionalism and anti-logic. Steam from the gallery radiators was harnessed to cool water for the drinking fountain; the solar panels captured energy to power an observatory which can only be used at night, fresh water was generated by pulling on a lever attached to the toilet. Cross-purposes were definitively the name of the game.

No longer able to cover their form with the mantle of function, objects like the telephone and water fountain drew new life from Brower's rearticulations, the apparent confusion they generated tripping quickly into free play. Rather than short-circuit the building, "Utility" redefined the space's face-value "neutrality," while constantly dovetailing accepted notions of function into a powerfully playful spirit of futility.

--Christian Viveros-Fauné