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Boyle Family depiction of ground
Boyle Family depiction of ground

Boyle Family, Demolition Fire Study with Lock and Trivet, 1989. Mixed media, resin, fibreglass, 48 1/8 × 48 1/8 inches. © Boyle Fanily; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Look at your feet and what’s around them in an area roughly six feet square. Study the dust, detail, texture—the parts you usually ignore, the relationships between the various things you see—and you will be halfway to appreciating the life’s work of the Boyle Family. Consider making not only a hyper-photorealist image of that area but a three dimensional model with every nuance immaculately preserved, exactly as is. This is one way to imagine the 11 works currently on display at Luhring Augustine, monuments that are otherwise incomprehensible. It also hints at reasons to make the pilgrimage to witness these disarming works in person: they are the perfect reality check, a counter to the relentless unreality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Boyle Family is a British collaborative group comprised of Mark Boyle (1934–2005), his wife Joan Hills (b. 1931), and their children, Sebastian Boyle (b. 1962) and Georgia Boyle (b. 1963). In their first solo presentation in New York in over 40 years, the Boyle Family’s “earthprobes” are disorienting re-creations of randomly selected areas of the earth’s surface, made from resin, fiberglass, and found materials, that combine Robert Smithson’s earthiest visions with the uncanny eeriness of a Duane Hanson clone. You may wonder how they do it, but they will not say. That would distract from the purpose of their work. The Boyle Family insists that you see life as it really is. Unlike Hanson’s, these works reduplicate physical space. Anyone can ask if a squished soda can is art, but here, surrounded by white walls, something that looks an awful lot like a soda can positioned amidst the rubble of a London street somehow provokes an acute awareness of the here and now in the unsuspecting viewer.

Boyle Family depiction of ground

Boyle Family, Study from the Japan Series with Broken Blue and White Linoleum and Debris, Miyazaki Prefecture, 1990. Mixed media, resin, fibreglass, 35 7/8 × 29 7/8 inches. © Boyle Family; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Early on, Boyle and Hills decided to spend their lives working on an art of “everything,” later adjusted to art that “could include anything.” Their “Tidal” series (1969), for example, explores the physical relationships between sand and water. The “Lorrypark” series, created in a truck lot in 1974 West London, reveals a strange spiritual quality never before gleaned from muddy tire tracks. Both of these series, and many others, are represented in Luhring Augustine’s show, and each piece, miraculously transported from its point of origin, uniquely defies understanding while remaining entirely familiar.

Despite the diversity of their subjects, the Boyle Family’s primary objective always remained the same: to teach themselves to see, first making large collages out of rejected material, but soon inviting a thousand blindfolded friends to shoot darts at a giant map of the world—an intention to widen their scope by visiting many randomly selected sites and capturing them. When two thirds of the darts hit ocean or areas that were politically prohibitive, the family began methodically visiting the remaining sites, soon realizing this was more than one lifetime’s work. Their kids officially joined as they visited Australia, Japan, Sardinia, Norway, and the Negev Desert after experimenting with locations in England. Zeroing in with increasing degrees of exactitude on new maps, they eventually sent a carpenter’s right angle spinning into the air to pinpoint each of the final, randomly selected, six by six foot tracts that would become the earthprobes.

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