3.19 / Review

From New York: Love Me

By Christine Wong Yap July 19, 2012

Curated by Molly Sampson and Andrea Serbonich, Love Me borrows its title from one of the works exhibited therein: Piper Brett’s Love Me (2009) is a six-foot-diameter sculpture of a red gift bow. Made of fluorescent-red powder-coated steel, the sculpture retains an appearance of newness that radiates unfettered optimism. All the works in this group show begin with mundane sources, ranging from painters’ shirts and newspaper clippings to a phone number. From such humble origins, a few works, like Brett’s, are ultimately rendered as brash, oversized Pop objects and installations. Often these overpower the other subtler, two-dimensional, and conceptual works. Consequently, Love Me is a resonant forum for some, but not all, of this geographically diverse group of artists.

The Philadelphia-based Brett’s sculptures are simple ideas made memorable through their vibrancy and immense scale. As the title suggests, My First Name (in lights) (2009) renders the name Piper in huge metal letters dotted with globe lights. This labor- and wattage-intensive sign conveys nostalgia for those of Hollywood and Broadway. It’s a beautiful object and is immaculately installed—not an electrical lead in sight. Exuding a warm glow, its light attracts; up close, its heat repels. The outward expression of one’s desire to be famous—to be loved—can be off-putting for others, so the directness and earnestness of this work may seem winsome. Like most ironies, there is truth at its heart. The desire to see one’s name in metaphoric lights persists, gauged with ever more immediacy in the age of social networking via followers, likes, hits, and re-pins.

Hailing from Utah, Adam Bateman presents a massive, wall-like form made of stacked books. Its vertical surfaces are clean and precise while it curves gently on its horizontal axis. The variations in spine widths form wave patterns that recall radiolarian chert, a geologic phenomena characterized by uniformly warped, parallel layers of rock. While the craft and scale of the installation are awe-inspiring, the title, Crazy About Muffins (2012), which the artist presumably lifted from a book title, doesn’t help to establish the work’s content or conceptual intent. The source of the books—a social venture named Worldwide Book Drive, dedicated to reducing illiteracy—also seems arbitrary given that the press release’s appended mention of the books’ source seems to promote the venture, yet Bateman’s work actually delays its literacy goals.1 The work is essentially a simple gesture enhanced by its monumental scale, which conflates mass with import.

Michelle Carollo. Steampunk Davis, 2012; wood, paint, tape, marker, foam, flashing, chain, and found objects on luan; 114 x 153 x 43 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Benrimon Contemporary, New York.
Piper Brett. Love Me, 2009; 22-gauge powder-coated sheet steel; 42 x 72 x 72 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Benrimon Contemporary, New York.

Visitors to Benrimon first encounter the mixed-media installation by the Brooklynite Michelle Carollo, Steampunk Davis (2012), from its side. Carollo makes three-dimensional constructions of mostly two-dimensional surfaces—an aggregation that could be summed up by a term once coined by the artist Justin Limoges in conversation: “two-and-a-half dimensions.” Viewed head-on from some distance, these installations often shift perceptually, scrambling viewers’ abilities to parse pictorial and sculptural stimuli. Viewers of Steampunk Davis may find they ascertain the materials’ flatness before forming an overall picture of the work. The installation appears as if the artist pulse-chopped and combined patterns, textures, icons, and materials. Careening off the wall and onto the floor, this assemblage suggests the contents of a television-show set—Pee-wee’s Playhouse comes to mind, if only for its peerless wackiness. Cutout painted panels of hard-edge, cartoonish, three-toed limbs reach over yet more painted panels of stripes, polka dots, and sawtooth patterns. At the center, a locomotive—partly rendered from an electrical apparatus and a set of stairs—breaks through a brick wall. The train’s black-paint and silver-tape outlines recall the Art Deco detailing of the Empire State Building.

In the midst of these large and eye-popping works, projects by Travis Childers, Hyungsub Shin, and Allistair Levy vie for attention. Procedural art can involve repetition at the risk of tedium, a pitfall suffered by the Washington, D.C.–based Childers’s collaged grids of newspaper faces: Conflict (2009) and Spaces (2011). The New Yorker Shin uses vinyl to create an illusion of bullet-pierced glass in the gallery window installation, Before Math (2012). The illusion’s craftsmanship impresses but renders the project rather anemic.

Levy, the show’s only United Kingdom–based artist, presents three stretched shirt fabrics that were painted incidentally while worn by painters and decorators and a tablecloth that was also used as a shower curtain. In the gallery, however, they appear as mostly blank abstract canvases with a few daubs of color that didn’t hold my attention, although learning about the processes behind these quieter works makes them more compelling. In retrospect, the works appear framed in a rich lineage of experiments to merge art and life, wherein the results do not always secure their identities as art objects.

Following Warhol, Oldenberg, Koons, and numerous contemporary artists, the art world is rife with magnified replicas of everyday objects. One might reflect on the way in which artists once spent much of their time making countless small studies in preparation for full-size paintings and sculptures. Now, it’s not uncommon for artists to take cheap objects as starting points for fabricating large, expensive copies. If playing with scale once resulted in studios full of miniature prototypes, it might now be seen to produce a giant’s world, alternately feeding and exploiting the human hunger for the feeling of awe inspired by one’s physical smallness in relation to the world.

 

Love Me is on view at Benrimon Contemporary, in New York, through July 28, 2012.

Notes

  1. See the press release for Love Me, http://www.bcontemporary.com/exhibitions/2012-06-21_love-me/. For more information about WorldWide Book Drive, visit http://www.worldwidebooks.org/.

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