‘Paul Elliman: Hermes the Thief’ at Wallspace

'Untitled (September Magazine)' by Elliman. (Courtesy the artist and Wallspace)
‘Untitled (September Magazine)’ (2013) by Elliman. (Courtesy the artist and Wallspace)

Midcareer British artist and designer Paul Elliman is finally making his U.S. solo debut. Brace yourself. It’s a heady one.

Mr. Elliman is concerned with the building blocks of language, and his work was included in Laura Hoptman’s excellent “Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language” show at MoMA last year. At Wallspace, things that resemble letters of the alphabet spill out of works in numerous mediums that he has arrayed about the gallery. An open box on a table contains dozens of broken key rings that look like Os and Cs. Another box has broken bicycle locks shaped like Ds, Us and, maybe, Js. Mr. Elliman also places such bits of metal on photographic paper to make crowded, lusciously colored photograms and paints them, deadpan, in a big group like an anonymous diagram. He also prints these patterns on fabric to create bright scarves.

Once you’re acquainted with Mr. Elliman’s game, all objects and images start to look odd. A huge magazine on the floor contains nothing but close-up shots of models, their tiniest gestures revealing hints of letters. Even his sparest, most inscrutable constructions—steel brush blades (lowercase Ls?) placed atop a fresh copy of The Times on the floor each day—look like carefully conceived puzzles that are also sincere invitations to reread the world around us. (Through Oct. 26)  ‘Paul Elliman: Hermes the Thief’ at Wallspace