Spot-welded above the roll-down shutters at Chin’s Push, like an old-timey emblem, is a sheet-steel replica of the Markets Data section of the Financial Times by artist Morgan Canavan. The illegibility of its raw figures is rendered as a sculptural pun—ticking digits accrete into heavy, creased matter. The work advertises the problem of data—how to display it, how to draw meaning from its abstractions—and flags the anxiety underwriting “Passive Collect,” a group show curated by artist Jesse Stecklow. Moving into the gallery, for example, one finds (CAS Registrations: Siladroxyllal and Plus Hydroxycitronellal) . . ., 2013–, for which Sean Raspet submitted new molecules to the Chemical Abstracts Service database. He then bound the CAS readout in a portfolio and fixed it to the wall on a retractable leash. This awkward workplace presentation is a brutally physical concession for molecules that, if produced, would be perfumes.
With the exception of Raspet’s, the works in this exhibition are simple combines, dimming the notion of passivity by accumulating without intent. Carlos Reyes’s Not Yet Titled, 2014, features pink oyster mushrooms sprouting from bags of substrate. A few ambient items—a crusty plate, a roll of flypaper—decorate the gallery, “passively collecting” dirt, spores, and flies. Like the artworks, these objects paraphrase the exhibition’s subtitle: “A Group Exhibition Organized Around Contemporary Notions of Data Collection.” “Data” almost means “stuff” here, yet the subtitle ends pitched on NSA-induced paranoia. Is calling mushrooms “data” the kind of semiotic creep that might conceal a darker purpose—like extending “drones” to cover RC helicopters? Who takes responsibility for all this data? Is data neutral now?
On the opening night of Gina Osterloh’s show, visitors encountered an enigmatic sight: a large, red paper screen supported by a simple wood base. The installation turned out to be a prop for Osterloh’s brief but impactful performance. Clad in a nude leotard, the artist swiftly and determinedly enacted a series of operations that altered the paper, at times striking it with her hand or cutting into it with a utility knife. At the close, viewers were guided to chant “prick, prick, prick, prick” as Osterloh leapt through the paper and landed on the floor. The propulsive power of that act and staccato rhythm of the performance overall functioned as emotional counterweights to the quiet, sublime sensibility of the photographs, installation, and film on view.
A selection of Osterloh’s new photographs depicts hand-drawn grids on paper covering the walls and floors of spaces, their corners perceptible only in subtle shifts in the direction of the lines. Osterloh has papered and then photographed rooms before, often accompanied by a body (either her own or an effigy) clothed in the same pattern as the paper—but the new grid photographs are empty. This vacancy, the wavering quality of her drawn lines, and the uncertain delineation of the borders create indistinct, queasy spaces—the visual equivalent of an unreliable narrator. This body of work hones in on something that Osterloh has explored, if more obliquely, in earlier pieces: how action defines and activates the simultaneously conjoined and distinct space between a body and its surroundings, between self and other.
In a message sent to the Blum and Poe’s mailing list prior to the opening of this exhibition, David Horvitz declared that a portion of the line between Alaskan and Pacific Time Zones had been shifted into the gallery. The artist attached a copy of his letter to the US secretary of transportation initiating an official request to designate a small wedge of the space as UTC-08:00. As there’s no clear economic benefit for that section of floor to sync with Alaska, it seems certain the request won’t be granted.
A line of clear glassware, partially filled with salt water gathered from the line’s original position, ostensibly marks the new position of this conceptual and bureaucratic boundary as it bisects one gallery room. Yet the artist's email makes an eerier artwork, as this materialization of the timeline visualizes—more than Horvitz’s gesture, more than any poetics of impossibility—a pathetic kind of persuasion. An imaginary line is imaginary—it might change position constantly, quantum-like—but a row of vases weighs down the possibilities floated by Horvitz’s proposal. His quixotic charge into bureaucracy, rather than revealing an endemic insanity in the DoT's procedure, seems to shore up its dry practicality.
Elsewhere, a line of disarmingly awkward photos document Horvitz’s performance of viewing the Pacific Ocean from public-access points, arranged south to north. His sense of documentation is casually digital—yet also bound to a kind of object poetics that owes a huge debt to early Conceptual practices. Horvitz's sincerity seems calibrated to pierce the weight of his references—but when this falls flat, there’s enough latent absurdity in his methods to backpaddle into bad faith.
By the mid-1980s Jean Baudrillard’s “simulacral” buzz was peaking, and the artists featured in Andrew J. Greene–curated “Bad Influence” responded to the dislodgment of exchange value (from commodity object to brand logo) with a mix of cultural and technological anachronisms. Produced between 1985 and ’92, works by Gretchen Bender, Ashley Bickerton, Wim Delvoye, and Jonathan Lasker offer a compelling account of a decade, but the show’s main provocation points to an anxiety of influence. See Bickerton’s sculpture Seascape: Floating Costume to Drift for Eternity III (Elvis Suit), 1992: Surrounded by four bright-yellow pontoons emblazoned with the word SUSIE—the artist’s self-conceived brand logo—the main body encapsulates a rhinestone-encrusted Elvis suit behind a panel of glass that recalls both television screen and display vitrine. If Bickerton’s pop-cultural time capsule offers a playful riposte to the more serious museological display strategies fashionable at the time, the work’s unsightly details—frayed gaffer tape and a disordered skein of black rope—subtly deflect kitsch commodity seduction by way of material fatigue. Similar material and cultural collisions persist in the work of younger artists, but differentiating aesthetic complacence from capitalist critique now seems futile or beside the point—bad influence indeed.
Across the way, Lasker’s To Caress the Naked Eye, 1987, is a premonitory example of how digital technologies currently infiltrate the space of painting. Layered planes of wavy figures and bold, off-kilter grids challenge the status of foreground and background (pre-Photoshop), and screen-friendly chartreuse hues almost predict the digital mediation of today’s LED transmissions. Yet, there are hints of Klee in Lasker’s imagery, and these historical references to primitivism—a regressive modernist response to the technological innovations of the previous century—remind us that the media-obsessed conditions of late capitalism might still be met with thoughtful resistance. Whether today’s artists can or care to defy the commercial efficiency of an endless stream of backlit appearances and the dizzying excess of speculative economies still remains an open question.
The small, sincere voice of Sue Tompkins echoed from the courtyard into the gallery during the opening of “Contort Yourself,” an exhibition of four Glasgow-based artists. Singing with all the passion of a teenage punk chanteuse but with none of the backing music, Tompkins’s voice was at first jangly, then awkward, settling into its own strange beauty by the end of her performance. Inside the ample, James Turrell–designed gallery, her paintings and works on paper include smallish gestures—signs, letters, shapes—writ loud, like her voice, by the odd and singular force of their aesthetic ardor. Hung low to the ground, the paintings overlooked vitrines of her typewritten works, each a jumble of design and image coded out of typography with a few words written almost in declarations.
The room over, Jim Lambie’s vividly varicolored circus ladders reach from floor to ceiling. With mirrored rungs, each leads nowhere but back at you in their reflections. One step beyond, behind a curtain, Luke Fowler’s feature-length video All Divided Selves, 2011, is on view, a beautiful collage of archival footage circling the controversial Scottish psychiatrist and poet R. D. Laing, who quietly winks at the camera in the middle of a group-therapy session. With Jonnie Wilke’s ethereal sounds tinkling out of a hi-fi back in the main gallery, the show begs some stab at their unified Scottishness (or more specifically Glaswegian-ness): the absurd and sometimes twee heights of their joy, the cutting chill of their desolate winters in the poorest city in the UK. Curated by Glasgow-based gallery the Modern Institute and titled after the electric jolt of No Waver James Chance’s most famous tune (which also appears in a poster above Wilke’s spinning record), this summer show comes together like a song.
For the greater part of his forty-year career, Allan Sekula leveled challenges to the neoliberal agenda through his highly specialized focus on the global maritime industry. Classically romantic subjects—seafarers, vessels, oceans—were put to service as a way to trace the movement of goods and reveal a rigged global economy.
His last major photo series, “Ship of Fools,” 1999–2010, is an intimate account of a single activist action on the restored cargo ship the Grand Mariner. Put to sea by the International Transit Workers Association, the ship housed an exhibit of work by various artists intending to expose corruption and exploitation in murky waters of maritime labor practice. The self-described agit-ship circumvented the globe, stopping in ports from the Caribbean to New Zealand, opening its doors to seamen, dockworkers, and the general public. Sekula’s photographs document the traffic on the dock itself, capturing a larger global politic via portraits—as if the social ills of commerce are visible in the folds of the affected’s skin.
The photo Churn stands apart from this focus on the faces on the dock. It’s a postcard-like shot from the stern of the Grand Mariner, depicting disturbed waters trailing toward a sunset in the distance. It brings to mind the fact that the split-second economic transactions of today’s world are still dependent upon the real-world movement of physical goods that travel at the same maritime speed of sea voyages centuries ago. Sekula’s critique emerges in spaces like that of Churn—in moments of calm that get at the pause and disconnect between ports, nation states, and ideologies.
Chuck Nanney’s first solo exhibition in over ten years is a spare tableau redolent with magical thinking. In “Body Parts & Oracles,” the wraparound whiteness of this new gallery’s single room is dotted and dashed at various heights by small colorful blocks, tall vertical sticks, and diminutive decorative wings that angle off the walls to toy with fantasies of architectural liftoff. But as much as the latter are wings, the oblong protrusions presented here are also pink tongues and purple thumbs, stiff schlongs and saggy sideways sacs, skin flaps and mottled scabs punctuating the space and erogenizing it with abstract anatomies. Nanney retains all of the handmade, low-budget, biomorphic queerness that so marked his practice of the 1980s and ’90s.
Anchored in place or hinged with utility hardware, the works exercise a Calder-inflected distinction between stability and mobility throughout. Where bulbous flipper shapes (called “lingums” [sic] and “nubs” in titles) are the “body parts” of this new corpus, the “oracles” are those small painted rectangular blocks scattered all over that conjure manual things like a Tarot deck or smartphone in size. Several slightly larger panels bare runes that border on legibility and suggest the letters of a monogram or logo but turn out to be sigils, coded markings embodying magic spells cast by the artist. One refers in its title to “secret love,” another to forgetting, while yet another constitutes part of a low-hanging landscape composition named telepath, 2014.
Everything is symbolic; everything is condensed. Smallness is a way to cultivate ruminative intimacy in viewing. And a sunny aesthetic disposition as willfully bright and happy as Nanney’s reads both as gaiety incarnate and a sly way to cover up a lifetime of sadness and trauma survived in the shadow of AIDS.
In a 1954 de Kooning knockoff called Mother and Child hung at the beginning of John Altoon’s long-posthumous (and very politely hung) retrospective, a lone squiggle floats like an errant feather across the surface of seething figures. Laura Owens points it out in the show’s stellar catalogue (which also includes a brilliant, anal-recussive screed by Paul McCarthy that would make Pere Ubu blush). Altoon’s singular career flows out of that single, wholly deliberate, slightly sploogy mark.
A little fleshy, a little gross, his spacey pastel abstractions sometimes look like reassembled fourth-dimensional space aliens, but like the East Coast AbEx defector Philip Guston, all the primordial ooze coalesced mid career into figures. For Altoon, these figures shape into jangly lined porno drawings and reworked advertisements, their barely suppressed lusts splurting to the top. His muted palette of tertiary turquoises and lavenders rocks steady throughout with levity, but the play of the purposeful squiggle expands out of the necessary self-seriousness of midcentury abstraction and into the freewheeling ’60s, the postwar abstract angst swirling into form around the new found sexuality. Collected by Mike Kelley and McCarthy, Altoon inspired with a blithe spirit in life and work a few generations of Los Angeles artists including Monique Prieto, Monica Majoli, and Barbara T. Smith, all also contributors to the catalogue.
Altoon ultimately turned whimsy to a purpose—individual desire wrought fearlessly and joyfully can be a revolutionary act within a regimented society. In 1966, Altoon collaborated with Robert Creeley on a series of lithographs and poems titled About Women (a favorite subject). Creeley matched the corporeal joy blossoming out of his collaborator near the end of his life (snipped short by a heart attack at forty-four in 1969): “Always your / tits, not breasts, but / harsh sudden rises of impatient flesh . . . which flower / against the vagueness / of the air you move in.”
Forty years ago, Robert and Mimi Melnick published a peculiar photographic study, Manhole Covers of Los Angeles. Drawn to the decorative patterns of industrially forged steel, the Melnicks’ mixed aesthetic appreciation of folk industrial traditions with archaeological rigor. Twenty-four years later, Steve McQueen embarked on an analogous study of the gutter barriers of Paris, culminating in the photographic series “Barrage,” 1998, which is on view as part of his latest exhibition. Here, McQueen focused on the improvised cloth bundles deployed by street sweepers to redirect the city's effluent. Fashioned from discarded towels, carpets, and other cast-off materials, the barriers bespoke a history of degraded cotton, cigarettes, and rubble. When illuminated by McQueen’s flash, the photos elicit a criminological tint, as if the barriers themselves were wrapped corpses subjected to the most horrific violence.
The second half of the exhibition shows McQueen’s hypnotizing triptych Drumroll, 1998. With two cameras positioned at the sides of an oil drum and another in the middle, Drumroll records an endlessly rotating panorama in mid Manhattan. Conceptually similar to Gabriel Orozco's Yielding Stone, 1992, where the artist rolled a malleable ball of Plasticine through the streets of New York. Just as Orozco’s ball accumulated the dust and grime of the street, McQueen’s oil drum yields to the street’s sights and sounds: horns, steam, and other street-level noise. As the oil drum both impedes and propels movement, McQueen is heard apologizing throughout, “Watch out, miss, watch out . . . excuse me, excuse me.” Notably, with every rotation of the central camera, the projected image consumes the very ground upon which it is placed, whereas the two adjacent projections, facing out to street-level traffic, articulate a panorama with no fixed horizon line. The cumulative effect is vertiginous, both groundless and unstable. It is these two views of the street—a revolving panorama in Drumroll, and debased cloth bundles in “Barrage”— where the labors of the street are cast awry.
Over several weeks, artist Miljohn Ruperto worked with animator Aimée de Jongh and neuroscientist Rajan Bhattacharyya to turn one long wall in the darkened gallery into a digitized mineral room—eight weird specimens have been rendered as if floating inside small caves in a row of monitors. One striking example resembles a human heart, bulging with red and blue in writhing, severed tubes. Another suggests a peyote button; another, a jellyfishall beam the aura of mysterious deep-earth organs. Each stone has been sketched, colorized, and animated into two jittering, faux-3-D frames. The animations twitch and glow. Between the hand-inked lines and LCDs, there is as much dissonance as magic. Ruperto has previously used a similar process in collaboration with photographer Ulrik Heltoft to “resurrect” the alien plants illuminating a fifteenth-century manuscript. Yet here with such wild subjects presumably extant and available, the translation from the radiant rocks of Ruperto’s source material to flat, hairy cartoons seems underwhelming, and almost alchemically obscure.
The exhibition’s title echoes the philosopher Georges Canguilhem, who writes that, in nature, “there are no mineral monsters.” In other words, taxonomy (like aesthetics) is a human invention. In generating his fantastic geological outliers, however, Ruperto routes his work around hard science entirely—testing not for chemistry but for “feelings” of revulsion or attraction. And while if pressed, a specialist might unpack the specific processes behind these curiosities, Ruperto and company strip away all paratext, all index, and all qualification, offering only hovering images. This show presents the end of a line of pure attraction linking spelunker to artist to animator to viewer. Thus utilized, Ruperto's samples disrupt the procedures of their discipline—suggesting, simply, that aesthetics transcends the training that would rationalize one classification over another—until the rock hound who tags these rocks as freaks might as well be an artist.
Dubbed the “Empress of Modest Propaganda” in the 2014 Whitney Biennial catalog, Lisa Anne Auerbach has been at the center of an alt-publishing mini-empire since 2004, when she first added a knitting machine to her existing practice as photographer and printer, and began pursuing the politics of consciousness via rabble-rousing sweaters, placards, printed matter, and zines. All of the above are represented in this jam-packed survey, “Spells," the irrepressible results of a free-running experiment in non-mass media and communication.
Everywhere, there is text: tapestry-size banners catalog real and imagined hashtags and the declarations of psychics; sixty-inch “megazines” offer travel notes and lovely, large-format photographs of soul-crushingly ugly megachurches. There are enough declarative woolens to fill a walk-in closet, including Oops! Toxic B.S., 2014, a fetching, Britney Spears–themed pantsuit with “Work!” and “Bitch!” stitched into either butt cheek. Self-publishing is always also a form of disclosure for Auerbach, whose plainspoken, caustic sense of humor establishes a consistent tone and highlights her intensely personal engagement with the materials. The knitted banner The Natural World, 2014, invites the viewer to become a reader and, in the process, a psychic detective, piecing together a biography by way of bibliography. Totemic black cats watch from the shadows.
The exhibition’s title alludes to Auerbach’s long-standing interest in witchy, performative uses of text across multiple media. By transposing hashtags, dumb jokes, and the campaign slogans of yesteryear into durable machine-knit textiles, Auerbach invests these fleeting bits of language with a jarring sense of keepsake gravitas and timelessness. It’s a sleight of hand as much temporal as textual, a bend in time that happens when otherwise hasty words stick around for a spell.
More than a few tales tangle and collide in the hallowed half-light of Edgar Arceneaux’s Gesamtkunstwerk about the depths and vanity of human endeavor. All the disparate elements coalesce around Martin Luther King’s life and death. Amid theatrical tableaux walled by wood palettes, translucent mirrors, sundry wall works, and a feature-length video, Arceneaux’s installation pivots conceptually on the last major speech King gave against Vietnam and the perilous power of technology. This premise unfurls to include the coincidence of his assassination two days before the premier of 2001: A Space Odyssey; the auctioning of King’s Nobel medallion and bible against the strong wishes of at least some of his family; and two letters, one anonymously sent by J. Edgar Hoover intending to guilt King into suicide for the shame of his sexual infidelities, and another from Dr. Bernice A. King protesting the auction.
Sound from the film A Time to Break Silence, 2014, screened in a second room, bleeds throughout the exhibition. Composed by Underground Resistance—forceful players from the Detroit techno scene—their shimmying, militant, and dystopian dance music interweaves with a recording of MLK’s speech while onscreen, a Space Odyssey ape-man throws stones in the crumbling nave of Detroit’s Ste. Anne’s Church. Each coincidence collapses into the next, all leading from the dreams of the past and the potential ruination of our future with Detroit as the small stage for a civilization’s struggle. Though sometimes bewildering, Arceneaux’s grand vision coheres and contains just enough dark, dirty, funky, sinister, heartbreaking force to earn the redemptive potential it slyly offers in its shadows and reflections.
For those seeking a certain intimacy in the evidence of imperfection, the smallest Mark Grotjahn show of the year will disappoint. As in the artist’s 1997 to 2008 “Butterfly” series, the two new bronze sculptures on view at South Willard derive depth from distance, from surfaces made trenchant by implied restraint. Cast from repurposed cardboard boxes that once packaged DeWalt power tools, the blocky heads with bewildered-looking incised mouths and tubular noses are part of a family of work that was at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas earlier this year. Installed here on pedestals at roughly eye level, each piece has the bulk of an industrial washing machine; together the pair weighs nearly half a ton.
Untitled (Top and Interior Gates, DeWalt Mask M33.c) and Untitled (Top and Exterior Gates, DeWalt Mask M33.e), both 2014, retain the practical byproducts of the foundry process usually removed during polishing: a cage of sprues and vents for molten metal (exterior on one mask and interior on the other) and bent nails to keep the silica sand casing from slipping. Instead of patina or paint, or even a spit-shine, the sides are mottled with traces of the mold itself, wormed with the creases of the burnt-out box. Leaving the finish alone is effort, of course, and besides the large masks were actually cast in pieces and welded together, a lot of heat to approximate accident.
Even now, the electronic mandalas and digital cross-stitch of Stan VanDerBeek’s “Poemfields,” 1966–71, projected onto the gallery’s felicitously high walls, flow with hypnotic, immersive energy. It’s difficult to imagine what early audiences, unaccustomed to computer graphics, must have made of them or, as VanDerBeek would have put it, how they experienced them. Digital patterns pulsate and scroll as words appear singly and in pairs; gnomic phrases materialize from the high-key geometric flux, then dissolve back into it, blurring distinctions between background and foreground, text and image.
VanDerBeek produced these bewitching short films—on view is Poemfield No.1–No.3, No.5, and No.7, the first of which has been restored in high-definition and exhibited here for the first time—with Bell Labs engineer Ken Knowlton using Beflix, a first-generation graphics programming language that worked by generating dense mosaics of keyboard symbols and type. The series marks a shift for VanDerBeek, a once-underground filmmaker, toward what he called an “expanded cinema” and the beginning of an intense period of collaborative experimentation conducted at the porous edge between high art and advanced telecommunications. VanDerBeek worked in emergent media with a revolutionary zeal, but he was also ambivalent, convinced that technology was dangerously outpacing humanity’s understanding of its uses and consequences. It’s worth remembering that VanDerBeek’s artist residency at Bell Labs—the epicenter and incubator of the Information Age—amounted to an emergency intervention: In 1965, the artist called for urgent research into an “international picture-language” capable of connecting the world in a satellite-linked “culture-intercom.” The “Poemfields” were meant as prototypes for this new computer-enabled medium of optical communication, one short “step away from mental movies,” as VanDerBeek wrote of them, “samples of the art of the future.”
“New Gravity,” it seems, is not so grave as the old stuff. Curated by Olivian Cha and Eli Diner, this show fields interventions by seven artists that—rather than programmatically deconstructing their context, as might be expected of a previous generation—engage the gallery in playful, even decorative ways.
A series of “Fluorescent Fittings” by Chadwick Rantanen, for example, augment one room’s lighting fixtures with cutesy plastic extensions from Beehive/Black to Birds and Bunnies/White, 2014. Elsewhere, Rantanen jams the gap between two standard wall works by Frank Benson and Oliver Payne with an “expressive” ribbon of carbon fiber. It hardly bears repeating that art follows a set of conventions—cool or daylight bulbs, rectangles in frames—and that these clichés might be poked or embellished. Far more interesting to cut chaos with elegant, existential wit. For her contribution, Kitty Kraus embedded an incandescent lightbulb in a block of inked ice, which then leaked a black electric puddle through the scores in the concrete floor. Liquid pools under a window, leaving rings as it dries, sinking any comment on the architecture to ground level.
Mahony wages a similar entropy against the white cube: Directly inside the entrance, a wide pile of granulated cork offers surprisingly springy footing, before being tracked through the gallery like high-end dirt. Weirder still to deny physics outright—or at least use art as an exit strategy. Payne’s pair of trompe l’oeil murals—in the fine style of painting as window—offers views of the show, between the gallery rooms, as if through a linked portal. Here the reference isn’t to Vermeer so much as Valve, the game developer behind the Portal puzzle franchise. The new gravity seems strongest where the reconfigured tropes of high art manage to re-ascend, despite themselves, into a profound register—aided by whatever tweaks to traditional, weighty angst.
In “MAN'S BEST FRIEND,” KAWS, aka graffiti artist turned animator turned mass-productionist Brian Donnelly, has reimagined some of his invented characters (such as the Dilly Bar–like Warm Regards, which also resembles a googly-eyed steaming poop emoji on a stick, and KAWSBOB, a KAWSified version of SpongeBob SquarePants with X-shaped pupils) as supporting actors in a cast largely dominated by Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Here, composite representations of these beings appear together or alone through installations of shaped canvas, sculpture, and mural-sized painting as well as fifty framed works on paper. Versions of Snoopy—cropped, blown up, and retaining the integrity of Schulz's sketchy yet deliberate line quality—repeat across a grid of canvases, while the cartoon dog’s outline elsewhere informs the shapes of brightly colored canvases.
It is helpful when viewing these works to keep in mind that KAWS also owned a store in Tokyo called OriginalFake, which sells toys, clothing, and decorative objects designed by the artist himself. Fakes of the originals, the works featured in “Man’s Best Friend” neither parody nor mimic iconic images; rather, they become elements layered like sentences within a larger story—with KAWS emulating the crossover appeal of artists such as Jeff Koons. In “MAN'S BEST FRIEND,” Snoopy’s cultural ubiquity comes to represent much of what KAWS’s guerrilla practice of art-making achieves. KAWS is a skater at heart.
When the dealer’s away, the art will play. Freedman and Fitzpatrick are out of town for Tobias Madison’s latest exhibition, but “the keys to the gallery can be picked up at Hollywood Smokes” next door. Meanwhile this artist’s crew of mummified rod-and-gauze figures, produced for the show, has replaced human art workers—shuffling, stacking, and checking in their overlords’ absence. The gallery storage, crated art, and other gear have been scooted to the back of the space and sealed behind Plexiglas. Sheet plastic smeared with dried iodine hangs from the rafters like some shredded surgical tent. The gangly, skeletal sculptures seem to tend other, less anthropomorphic works: a big wad of gauze blackened with iodine; a “tide pool” of shredded cables and steel sheathing, gurgling in a chemical puddle. Like zombies in a zoo, Madison’s undead creations go about their motionless business of “being seen.” Two mummies start up a metal staircase to nowhere. One raises a pair of pipe “binoculars,” as if seeing back.
Most of the gallery, though, has been pinched into unusable spaces by a giant angular build-out (three white walls that seem by all appearances natural parts of the building), which is fine, because except for the back enclosure, the gallery is bare. The dry, “intervening” conceptual wedge on the one hand, the messy tableau on the other, skew the gallery’s usual “operative” back- and front-room balance. The hospital-smelling mummies are a transparent parody of the labor behind the gallery’s operations—for example, the periodic reshuffling of the walls—but also the main event: art and handlers in one. It’s a testament to a kind of cultivated opacity that, even depopulated, still seems to maintain function: the impression that something is happening even when nothing is.
In a dark room at Chateau Shatto, the installation Endless Columns (all works 2014)—a carved-Styrofoam, faux–Art Deco ornament designed after a salvaged MGM Grand ashtray on which it rests—is lit with projected moving lines that trace its ziggurat-like form. Mirrors above and below the work as well as lining the walls of the room multiply the totemic shape, producing a flattened hierarchy between reflection and structure. Cayetano Ferrer, who grew up in Las Vegas and made a patchwork floor of casino carpeting for the 2012 “Made in L.A.” show at the Hammer Museum, rearranges the stylistic elements that surround gaudiness, where artifice is so accentuated and superfluous that it has become an end in itself instead of a representational device.
Another polystyrene tower, Infinite Screen Wall, stretches from floor to ceiling and is laced with green neon tubes, and as with every good fiction, it is both overarching and punctured. The work separates a pile of plaster tiles that will be restacked every day of the exhibition by the gallery staff from a series of rectangular consoles on steel bases (Quarry Composite). These pieces are part marble and part linoleum with print matched to the natural stone, layering the appearance of the thing over the thing itself, as Ferrer has in the past with street signs and billboards wrapped in the image of the horizon behind them. Ferrer’s gift is that he reconfigures not space but gilding. And maybe that is the idea behind his exaggerated illusionism—to dismantle the pretenses inherent in what presents itself as natural.