Faux Faux and Hooker Shoes: Parlor Games in Bushwick
What a World, What a World at The Parlour Bushwick
October 1 to November 6, 2016
791 Bushwick Avenue at Dekalb Avenue
What a World, What a World is an exhibition of eight sculptors who use found materials—to some degree. It was curated by Luisa Caldwell, whose impressive curtains of found candy wrappers, exhibited at Long Island University last Spring, wove Aztec beach blankets with Klimt-like translucency from scraps of colored cellophane. That same riches-or-rags dichotomy is expressed in this show where half the works are elegant and refined, the other half crude and casual, and where all are experimental departures from the artists’ usual practice.
The Parlour’s parlor greets us with Donna Huanca’s Hooker Shoes, (2016) a pair of stilettos encased in nylon nets, fur, toy octopus bits and other flotsam presented on a pedestal. It might pass for a Bruce Connor assemblage were it uniformly brown, rather than motley –– and a far cry from the ambitiously cool, candy-colored aesthetic of Huanca’s installations involving painted living skin. On second thought, the angry rush of materials is nothing like Conner’s infinite care with the abject, and seems intended politically. If so, it’s a bit undercooked, considering that spiked heels right out of the box perform the body as an entanglement of sex, sexism, fashion, consumerism, race and class, and have been a staple of artistic speculation since the days of Meret Oppenheim.
On the mantle behind, Jane Benson’s vase of flowers is so subtle that it could be mistaken for brownstone decor were it not for a slab of thick yellow on a face of the glass, applied with an impasto that recalls Jonathan Lasker. Even then we might miss how the “hand-cut artificial flower” within has been plausibly returned to geometry. The artist has a second work in the pantry in which only green, money-shaped leaves remain. The gesture of these works is precise –– the hand redeems human synthesis of nature, but only by acting like a machine.
Jude Tallichet and Matt Freedman, a sculptor couple with independent sensibilities collaborating here, have furnished the parlor with a ghost upright piano made from thin wood stripping hastily screw-gunned into an exact-size bounding box. Two wiggling, rubbery casts of keyboards, yellow and purple, seem to want to express the idea of “jazzy,” as in a wall display behind the popcorn stand at the cineplex. Too tragically real in their deformity, however, they verge instead on “creepy.” A jazzman’s pork pie hat sits atop the schematic piano; it is sculpted from a papier mâché-like material with satisfyingly blunt impatience, as is a collection bucket on the floor. Disembodied pairs of lips with teeth overflow the bucket, the haul from a Surrealist rent party, perhaps, or a Gumby slaughterhouse.
If the obsessively reworked and damaged ceramic objects that Ron Baron recently exhibited at Valentine felt like exorcisms, The House Stripped Bare, Really (2016), his sectional, wall-mounted architectural scenario made from folded tin dollhouses and plastic figurines, returns to this artist’s usual sculptural clarity and emphatic punning. On the wall, the Eisenhower and Kennedy era dollhouses create a suburban cul-de-sac as seen from above. One house has its furniture outside, as if for a bankruptcy or alien abduction, while a crowd of stereotypes (cowboys, Jacks and Jills, soldiers, dogs, astronauts, babes) pours downward toward the unperturbed Bride, who faces them in her bell-shaped wedding gown. Baron (at least in this more familiar mode) is a perfectionist, not only as craftsman but – in his assemblage preferences – as collector. One house is softly colored like a Golden Book, another is as crisp as a Popular Mechanics diagram, and all cast shadows through the grids of their cut-out windows onto lushly printed metal interiors.
Swinging back to the anti-perfectionist end of the show, Root People, (2016) Anna Rosen’s compound of hanging plastic cylinders recycled from old planters, seems a far cry from the freshness and sophistication of her painting practice. The floral patterns she brushes onto the cylinders would get worked hard on canvas and transformed, but here they stop at their initial iteration. Crude clay figures can be spotted inside –– homunculi, perhaps, of creative fertility, which can’t take root in this bare, leftover plastic. (The rich loamy smell of potting soil might be just what the piece is missing.)
Harry Finkelstein’s jewelry-sized tableaus of small fragments of disparate kingdoms are arranged in several locations. A tiny knot of wood like a scholar’s rock, shattered windshield glass set like precious gems, and other curiosities straddle the line in these works between the fabulous and the arbitrary. One untitled work (2016) suggests a Fabergé egg, complete with an oval window. The view inside, however, is no more intricate than outside, a disappointment that may or may not be intended.
And Caroline Cox’s lighter-than-air Whirl (2016) is an arrangement of crystal spheres and aqua blue monofilament on a pure white slab. Looking down, one is reminded of a drawing made by a super collider, with subatomic rarities etched in beautiful curls of decay –– except that the materials could have been bought on Canal Street for a few dollars instead of half a trillion; and instead of terawatts of energy, Cox needs only the magic of physical behavior: reflecting, magnifying, looping, and twisting. In conjunction with What a World, a visit to the superb group show Fish Tank, currently in LIU’s glass-enclosed Humanities Gallery and co-curated by this show’s Matt Freedman, is highly recommended, in part because Cox’s web-like installation there is a kind of three-dimensional, hanging version of Whirl’s acute graphic slice. On its white slab, poised above the floor on hidden glass spheres, Whirl is an epigrammatic snapshot of the artist’s taming of chance.
Cox co-ran a pioneer gallery in Williamsburg for many years called Flipside. Crucial parts of a healthy ecosystem, artist-run galleries and artist-curated shows are like Cox’s refracting, inter-connective webs. On the way out, you may notice some of Freedman’s extra porkpies on the period hat rack, reminding us of hats being passed around, of wearing different hats, and of getting to try things on.