Tomatoes, Texts, Telephones + Totems: I Saw Some Art

Despina Stokou, Google Search: Tomatoes (page 53/162), 2014

At Derek Eller, Despina Stokou created black-and-white paintings based on the source code of a Google image search for the word “tomatoes,” and she made some color paintings based on online horse-betting tips. Kinda hard to wrap your head around — but the work itself is quite compelling, if you can avoid reading the insufferable artist’s statement / press release. Tomatoes, defined in large part by their juicy redness (duh), are here reduced to monochrome code — which, granted, in its layering, takes on a certain textuality. But not a squishy, juicy one.


And speaking of reductive documentation: Jenny Holzer’s Dust Paintings, at Cheim & Read, make use of her standard source material: government documents. A rambling catalog essay suggests that Holzer’s work has some affinity with Arabic “dust writing” — hence the title of the show. But based on what little scholarship I could locate on this chirographic form, the resemblance is merely cosmetic: some of Holzer’s canvases call to mind hastily washed chalkboards, with streaks of chalk-dust constituting a palimpsest. In a different series of paintings,  redactions in the documents are aestheticized, thereby transforming evidence of censorship into Color Fields.

Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer





I also stopped by Galerie Lelong for Kate Shepherd’s Fwd: The Telephone Game, which I expected to provide a similarly cryptographic experience. Nah. The work didn’t live up to its provocative title.

Yet continuing with the document theme was Erica Baum’s The Paper Nautilus at Bureau. The printed page is her subject, and in much of her work she highlights the aesthetics of “looking askew” at bibliographic form. “Beyond the narratives and illustrations that these texts present, it is in the margins and gutters, in the textures and contours of these printed objects that Baum finds her subject.” As the press release explains:

Utilizing the mechanical techniques of her Dog Ear and Blanks series, works in the new Stills are similarly composed through the simple operation of folding down the corner of a book page. In those earlier series, Baum’s corners disclose found concrete poetry and elegantly textured geometric abstractions. The Stills focus on fractured imagery and thus relate to Baum’s cinematic Naked Eye works in which fanned-out paperback pages reveal a rhythm of sliced pictures. This expanding aesthetic demonstrates Baum’s consistent skill for unearthing abstract beauty from within the printed page. The Stills are a suite of slightly uneven, bisected squares composed of blown-up halftone illustrations and forms framed by toothy paper grains from the books’ margins.


These aesthetics of the fold (folded, compressed space, that is) — and of forensics — were also present in Roxy Paine’s Denuded Lens. The centerpiece was an almost-life-size wooden forced-perspective diorama of an airport security checkpoint, a product of both computer-modeling and hand-carving. One could say, predictably, that human and machine work in tandem as labor-force in such surveillance zones — as they did in the construction of this particular model of one such zone. While the press release suggests that the re-scaling and compression and “petrification” of this environment in wood “translates a quotidian space into an uncanny one,” I’d suggest instead that it makes an already-uncanny space even uncannier! For more on “uncannied” labor: Labor is a central theme in several other sculptures on display — wooden models of machines and apparatae so intricate that they had to have been made, at least in part, by a machine.

Roxy Paine, Diorama
Roxy Paine, Diorama




And that wasn’t the last of the uncanny labor environments I encountered that day: the late Jason Rhoades’s PeaRoeFoam, a reinstatement of — and amendment to — an installation from 2002…

…was Rhoades’s self-made recipe for a ‘brand new product and revolutionary new material’  created from whole green peas, fish-bait style salmon eggs, and white virgin-beaded foam. When combined together with non-toxic glue, they transform into a versatile, fast-drying, and ultimately hard material that Rhoades intended for both utilitarian as well as artistic use — his detailed step-by-step instructions accompanied do-it-yourself kits complete with everything needed to make PeaRoeFoam.

Rhoades, whose legacy lives on in the form of this immortal-because-it’s-so-not-biodegradable material — puts on display the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of his mutant product, and all the infrastructures integral to the production cycle.

Jason Rhoades, PeaRoeFoam


Jason Rhoades, PeaRoeFoam


Meanwhile, at Petzel, Walead Beshty’s Performances Under Working Conditions displayed copper desktops patina-ed through use by the gallery staff. “The copper surrogates map the progression of the gallery staff’s immaterial labor: of discourse, transaction and negotiation.” Ah, but of course!

Annoying — but kinda beautiful.

Walead Beshty
Walead Beshty


Returning to the whole “uncanny” theme” was Josh Dorman’s Whorled at Ryan Lee. As the title suggests, Dorman constructs fantastical worlds via collaged — “whorled” — vintage textbook pages, engravings, found images, antique maps, player-piano scrolls, etc. Very 19th-century media-archaeological Pieter Brueghel.

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And then the banality of the uncanny — in this case, specifically, our boredom with the increasing realism of computer graphics. Harun Farocki’s Parallel at Greene Naftali traced the evolution of video game graphics, game-space, and characters, via screen captures of game-play and footage of game developers. I found it hysterical that my companions in the gallery were more captivated by their phones than by the supposedly magnetic game worlds suspended just feet from their faces. Pay attention, people! That zombie is about to melt your face off!  



And more banality — specifically the banality, and beauty, of evil (and everyday life): Stephen Shore, at 303 Gallery, documents quotidian objects and spaces in Israel and the West Bank, and in villages of Holocaust survivors in the Ukraine. These banal scenes carry the weight of conflict, history, destruction, loss. I loved the formal and chromatic — and affective and semantic — juxtapositions created in the installation. Damn, he’s good.




Rooftop Infrastructure
Rooftop Infrastructure

Also concerned with formal juxtapositions of quotidian objects in everyday spaces, and with the themes of loss and reclamation, is Andy Coolquitt’s somebody’s place at Lisa Cooley:

Coolquitt specializes in the creation of objects and environments composed of urban flotsam and other peoples’ junk. Eclipsing existing models of economic, cultural or even aesthetic value, his empathetic reuse of found objects is not meant as a conversion of trash into treasure, but rather as an indexing of the irredeemable; the abandoned and the invalid; the wasted and the destroyed.

As a self–proclaimed “artist of exhibitions,” Coolquitt typically works to manipulate the physical and psychological dynamics of his environments (what he often refers to as the “density” or “openness” of the space) by altering the relationships that his objects have with each other, with the viewer, and with the surrounding architecture. For a recent exhibition at 21er Haus in Vienna, the artist chose to cede this control to the local art handlers (who were instructed to “put the stuff in the room”) and curator (whose instructions were to “finish the job”). In somebody place, Coolquitt has altered this method again, this time by pre-arranging the dynamics of the exhibition in the studio, living with the objects and arranging them unconsciously as one would treat functional objects in their home….

Echoing William Carlos Williams’ poetic dictum, “no ideas but in things,” the intelligence of Andy Coolquitt’s work is embedded within the objects themselves, in the accumulated knowledge of stuff that is communicated through use. (We somehow know, Coolquitt likes to point out, that the bed doesn’t go in the kitchen.) The works in somebody place are the result of Coolquitt’s interest in “the intersubjectivity of stuff,” in how the interconnectedness of daily rituals often complicate the boundaries that separate order from chaos, function from disfunction.

Andy Coolquitt
Andy Coolquitt



Yes, deodorant containers.
Yes, deodorant containers.
A little plate o' candy-like-bits under the reception table
A little plate o’ candy-like-bits under the reception table

More play with form: Allan McCollum’s The Shapes Project at Petzel, in which he aims to create a unique shape for every single person in the world — and here, as part of “Perfect Pairs,” he couples those shapes to propose human relationships. They’re relational widgets of sorts.





Matthew Ritchie, in his Ten Possible Links at Andrea Rosen, is also working with semiotics and forms of communication — or, as the headache-inducing press release puts it, variations on “diagrammatic thinking.” I particularly liked how the layered informatic textures, if we can call them that, pulled you back father into the gallery, into a dark inner sanctum.

Matthew Ritchie
Matthew Ritchie


[In an odd transition…] Fred Wilson’s work likewise pulls apart the basic formal structures of our national symbols, institutions, exhibitionary conventions, etc. In his Sculptures, Paintings and Installations at Pace, we see his complete flag series, in which he presents de-colorized flags from African and African diasporic nations — and, nearby, a set of wood placques explaining the symbolic values of these flags’ colors.

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Race is of course a central theme here, as it is in Nick Cave’s work. In his fabulous Made by Whites for Whites at Jack Shainman — probably the best show I’ve seen this month — Cave reframes radically charged historical objects. “The project began when Cave found a container at a flea market shaped like the head of a black man and labeled ‘Spittoon.’ He…began ‘to rehabilitate the problematic, loaded object and find a place of reverence and empowerment through use.” Here, these objects are embedded in topiaries and totems composed of traditional decorative objects — and thereby, ostensibly, “rehabilitated.”










We also get a gallery guide that provides a biography for many of the found objects.


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