Every New Concept Comes as a Judgment

by Elaina Ransford

Fernando Mastrangelo's show NOTHING at the Mike Weiss Gallery

Three materials: sand, concrete and salt. Three objects: artist, art, and viewer. Three possible meanings, but here the triadic relationship dissipates into a multitude of possibilities. Fernando Mastrangelo—the artist behind NOTHING, the show opening tomorrow at The Mike Weiss Gallery in New York City—embraces this multiplicity.

The philosopher C.S. Peirce claimed that there exists a triadic relationship surrounding signs: the object, the meaning, and the interpretation of the two. The signifier lies somewhere in between the viewer and the sign they are viewing. Meaning—that enigmatic word glowering over works of art—is left floating somewhere between the materials of the painting and the person standing in front of it.

Mastrangelo’s work is heavily influenced by the materials he uses. His mediums have included human ash, cocaine, and—most recently—concrete, salt, and sand. His materials are often tied up in ideas of life and death, the human condition, and the ways in which we interact with the planet we inhabit. Concrete wears down under our feet; sand is inextricably tied to the oceans that cover our earth; and salt is at once a preserver and destroyer, the most commonly used spice, a historically and religiously-loaded substance. The three materials place us in that middle between non-existence and death: that space that is human life.

Mastrangelo’s use of materials being linked so closely to ideas about the human condition is hardly unintentional. In Issue #136: The Distress Issue of this magazine, the artist tells us that the message is inextricably linked to the materials he uses: “Materials are metaphors. I’m attracted to certain materials because they’re inherently loaded with content.” The meaning is defined by the connotations humans ascribe to materials.

Mastrangelo defines his work both by medium and by the ideas that arise from form. “Form and content working together to create simple visual pieces that are layered with art historical references, mixed with modern-man’s existential dilemmas.” Materials—he tells us—are the core identity of his art.

Mastrangelo’s live art performance for Flaunt’s booth at PROJECT Las Vegas last summer, placed the artist, the work, and the spectators in sharp contrast to one another. The relationship between each necessarily asked the viewers to define where the meaning in the work lay.

NOTHING is—paradoxically—an exhibition about everything. It’s a show that places each person in a triadic relationship with the signs and signifiers of the works. And from every person that walks through the show comes a collective infinity of interpretation. That elusive third, the one that makes artwork meaningful, the one that exists in the space between the art and the viewer, is what Mastrangelo forces his spectators recognize in this show.

NOTHING begins March 12th and runs through April 25th at 520 W 24th, NYC.