The barrel vaults in the room containing Jason Yates’s installation “Master and Servant” serve him well. Visitors enter the room through a large door, across from which Yates has set the work A Garden Where Nothing Grows (all works 2012) beneath the facing vault. Slits in this gray triptych allow slivers of daylight from a window behind the work to pierce the center section. The walls beneath the other three vaults are covered with wallpaper, in a squared-off pattern of black and white crosshatching, titled Sunset Since Sunrise. Finally, four tables, Black Monk Tables, are symmetrically arranged on the floor.
The simple layout of this exhibition brings to mind a remarkably similar four-vaulted space in a twelfth-century Benedictine chapel in Terni, Italy. It may not be entirely coincidental that Saint Benedict’s primary contribution to church dogma, Rule—a volume of precepts for Benedictine monks—was a revision and update of the anonymously authored sixth-century Regula Magistri, a book whose English translation, “Rule of the Master,” echoes in the title of this exhibition. Both of these religious texts stress a life of restraint, equanimity, and balance, which are also signal qualities of Yates’s installation. Here Yates shares with monastic orders a devotion to a toiling obsessiveness marked by blunt repetition. Do his abstract iconography and enigmatic titles (Sunset Since Sunrise) indicate a deliberate affinity with spiritual life? At the least, he creates a life of codes and cues hidden away from view, a secret society in which he casts us as the initiate. Religious orders or art-world sects—are they really so different?