Time for our Lower East Side installment in our “We Went to…” series. And you know what that means: a lot of griping. We moan pompously about aggrandizing titles. We trash found object sculpture. We fart on long-winded press releases. We deconstruct tedious professionalism. And of course, we liked a few shows. Read on to see what we have to say about Andy Coolquitt, Henry Taylor, Jeff Gibson, E.V.Day, and Kembra Pfahler.
Jeff Gibson, “Statusfaction”, at Stephan Stoyanov
Through May 6th.
Whitney Kimball: A highlight of the tour: preposterously opulent stock images of sweeping, perspectival settings (stadiums, yachts, rollercoasters), design objects (chairs, helmets, speakers), food (donuts), rainbow-colored landscapes (glaciers, craters) and dance performance stills scroll in a video like an advertorial slideshow for tourists. Over this appear neuroses like “cultic vacuity” and then their definitions, like “a monkish devotion to the absence of meaning.” A full list of definitions and photos appear framed on the wall.
Jeff Gibson's list captures familiar ailments. Just a few: “relaxation anxiety: the fear of losing one's edge [real of imagined],” “schizophrenic appraisal: wild swings in evaluative criteria, brought on by competitive envy,” and “populist punditry: half-baked opinions affirming the middle ground.” Yup.
Anthony Espino: I appreciate the decision to illustrate these defined terms and phrases as memes—relating the concept of habitual, infectious habits and inescapable media tropes.
Paddy Johnson: I don't think we can call this a meme just because this guy has a tumblr and uses blocky text in a tweetable number of characters. These aren't terms that we're all going to start using now; they don't roll off the tongue. They're more like the definitions found in the margin text of Douglas Coupland's Generation X, only a little more art-centric. Whereas Coupland would coin terms like “Veal Fattening Pen”, an office cubicle a 20-something in a dead-end job occupies, Gibson focuses more on attitudes. “Sideline Omniscience” is my favorite of these, a phrase that means, “A heightened sense of enlightenment founded on inexperience.” So. True.
Andy Coolquitt, “chair w/ paintings”, at Lisa Cooley
WK: Tinkertoy arrangements of found objects—lighters, Monster cans, wifebeaters, a loading palette, faux-marble blocks and a big, badly-beaten wooden cube—refer often in titles to domestic fixtures. The point is that these are not objects you'd expect to find in an art gallery; then again, that hasn't been the case for years.
There's nothing here that separates this from any other limited-edition luxury artwork, in the way that a high-priced purse made of bottle caps is the same as one made of diamonds. Even the “fuck off” is market-friendly; the many plaster hands which flip us off throughout the show are described politely as “making rude gestures” in the press release.
PJ: I immediately thought of Tom Friedman when touring this show, and he's not an artist I'd normally connect with Coolquitt. That's because I'm used to seeing a lightbulb on top of a multi-colored pole from Coolquitt, rather than funny stuff and mass produced multiple sculptures. There's the long stick made out of lighters, a stick stuck in dogshit, or a pair of monster hands on a ball… it's all got a Friedman flavor to it.
AE: Yeah, but a caveman version of him. Friedman's so fastidious, like a thousand toothpicks all arranged to look just like an explosion.
PJ: Agreed. Speaking of which, there's too much stuff strewn around the gallery. Some of these pieces are really great—I loved the hanging pedestal with lights, and the rod with puff-balls, but I almost missed both in the maze of crap in that show. The giant plywood cube encased in plexi is an eyesore and it's the centerpiece of the exhibition!
AE: There's an amusement park theme to the show that might explain the clutter, but it didn't make me like the show. The exhibition is overwrought with found junk like age-worn soccer balls and sun-drenched gummy worms.
The only piece I really responded to in this show was the stereoscopic Four Loko cans. They're mounted on two sides of a red disk of plexi hanging from a metal wire—taking the cake for mildly resembling a clown nose.
WK: I liked those 3-D cans! Something other than stacking.
Will Brand: This is such stoner art.
PJ: Which brings to mind Tony Matelli.
WB: In a way, though Matelli can be very precise. Coolquitt's work is the sort of sculpture you don't need to leave the house to make. Also, he has a taste for exceedingly easy balance – like, there're two things on the left, so I better make sure to put two things on the right. He takes sculptures that—if you just looked at the materials list—ought to be dynamic and fun, and turns them into these lifeless totems.
Henry Taylor at UNTITLED
WK: Henry Taylor, who recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia, has made an environment for an African hut structure, which is made out of bed frames and broomsticks. It's a smooth transition from chunky, color-blocked portraits.
In one video on the floor, a cameraman is interrogating a boy on the street about his religion, his family, where he lives, and where to buy shoes. You can't be sure whether the boy understands him or not, but he replies eagerly with a lot of smiles and “yes'es.” There's a panic in the man's voice, which is replicated throughout the exhibition. It's a one-sided cultural conversation, but it feels considered.
The wall-mounted black detergent bottles, though, which are hung on the walls like paintings, made me cringe. It's as though the decision was made last-minute to add something saleable. It undermines the whole shitpile-of-first-world-waste feeling.
PJ: I dunno. Between your writeup and its listing on Contemporary Art Daily, I feel like I should like this show, but “considered” wasn't what I thought I’d be reading when I left the gallery. I mean, the artist goes to Ethiopia and comes back to throw some dirt in a gallery? I'm not sure that's evidence that he's thinking very hard. There's also the scribbles on the wall, the clothesline in the shape of a hut, and that creepy praying mannequin at the back; how many contemporary art cliches melded with African touchstones do I need to see before I can say, okay, this show isn't actually expanding my visual vocabulary?
WK: The furniture-as-African-hut was pretty unimaginative. But I thought it started going somewhere with the combination of the charcoal wall writing (“Queen a Sheba,” repeatedly, and “I love you Queen a Sheba,” once) and the small video on the floor. Maybe not “considered,” but “felt.”
PJ: The video made me want to puke, but yeah, you're right. Those elements were more felt, and I'm not sure I would have thought about that in those terms without this conversation.
AE: I just feel bad for the gallerist who has to sit beside that stuffed hyena all day.
WK: What's wrong with the hyena?
PJ: It makes me feel like I'm visiting Peter Beard's studio.
E.V. Day and Kembra Pfahler – “Giverny”, at The Hole
WK: Artist E.V.Day has magically transformed The Hole—with 2,500 square feet of synthetic turf, 100 bags of gravel, a pond, 60 water lilies, trees, a life-size bridge, and a ton of wilting plants—into Monet's gardens at Giverny. Therein hang photos of glam-punk rocker Kembra Pfahler, nude, who is magically transformed—with some body paint, a wig, and knee-high boots—into a sculpture. Brought to you by the curator who once magically transformed Deitch projects—with two thousand phone books, shredded by volunteers—into a toilet for Dash Snow. Also brought to you by Playboy.com.
PJ: I saw the shit out of The Hole's bookstore, but didn't see the show. That's because I showed up on a Sunday, and the gallery's only open Tuesday through Saturday. Readers: Be ye not so stupid.