Order of Operations marks a first solo show at Narwhal for artist Noel Middleton, who has been exhibiting with that gallery for seven years. The works are, in a sense, site-specific, for they incorporate Middleton’s finds during a renovation of the gallery space. Inspired by the process of demolishing walls, peeling off layers of old flooring and remaking the rooms, Middleton remodels his experience into a complex narrative, complete with archetypal characters and enigmatic symbols, the significance of which he explained in a public talk on January 24th.
Middleton’s art practice is heavily based on discarded items and objects closely at hand, which he “harvests” daily, a process he jokingly characterizes as an “ongoing game.” The classicizing air of the show is inspired by a chance encounter: Middleton found a discarded art book, “The Acropolis,” while renovating the gallery building. He was particularly intrigued by the aesthetic of certain photographs showing antique sculptures in museums or at archeological excavations.
Middleton is fascinated by the imperfections he uncovers through working closely with the various materials. In the case of this show, he intimates that as he was wrecking the walls apart, he discovered an “elevated sense of workmanship,” for each contractor applied a different touch in their past renovations, revealed in the details. Connecting the antique aesthetic with these modern-day excavations, Middleton made busts representing various contractors’ trades and chose to imitate the display of antique statues in museums with some additional sculptures.