Architectural Striptease

By turning the CAC inside out, Affect/Effect reveals the hidden potential of the ordinary

Scott Carter’s solo show, Affect/Effect, lays bare the bones of the Contemporary Arts Center. The 27-year-old Chicago-based artist has peeled away, sawn and cut the gallery walls, exposing pipe, plywood and two-by-fours. Unlike the detritus of an ordinary demolition site, the removed drywall—cut into geometric shapes like jigsaw puzzle pieces—is then sandwiched together to create furniture, such as chairs or bedposts (Carter’s grandfather was a furniture maker). The result is a visual seduction that addresses the mood of Las Vegas in the wake of the housing collapse. On one level, his installations are merely neat to look at, but look deeper, and the exposed walls have a lot to say. Here are three topics that they’d chat about if they could:

Environmental Psychology. By taking common construction materials and reconstructing them in uncommon ways, Carter explores how built environments make us feel. Case in point, moving through his installation feels voyeuristic, as you peek at the building’s previously hidden bones. By seeing the material that he removed from the walls as recognizable shapes—tabletops and pedestals, for example—instead of construction waste, it opens the mind to a new life for all the half-built, abandoned and/or foreclosed properties in Vegas.

Sustainability. To create his bold, graphic mural compositions, Carter carved up the CAC’s interior with an intentional and precise violence. His method of extracting objects could point to Nevada’s mining industry, which blasts away mountains to retrieve the gold buried within. Similar to mining, the result is an aesthetically pleasing delight. But unlike mining, both the “mountain” and the “ore” remain beautiful. In this way, Carter’s site-specific artwork prods us to ask how we can make Nevada a livable place for the long haul.

National Dialogue. Vegas often seems like an island that’s isolated from the art world at large. But by hosting an innovative young artist who is about to break onto the national scene (this is his first solo exhibition), the CAC is doing for art what the Cosmopolitan’s Book & Stage is doing for indie music. To give you a feel of how Carter fits in the national art conversation, take a look at the handful of artists who are doing the same type of thing. They are mainly urban street artists working with the shallow canvas of decrepit building exteriors (check out for a stunning example). Carter literally moves the street art inside and adds sculpture to the negative space designs. In doing so, he elevates this method to the next level artistically, and he’s bringing the Vegas art scene along for the ride.

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