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New York
Jonah Freeman, Justin Lowe
Marlborough Chelsea
545 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001
September 13, 2012 - October 27, 2012

Freeman/Lowe “Stray Light Grey"
by Lee Ann Norman

Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe are known for creating disorienting, dystopian and fully immersive alter-worlds. Their large-scale installations often reference popular culture, art and history, drugs, deviance, poverty and affluence through a comprehensive transformation of space and material. Their work is a complex three-dimensional collage where no detail is overlooked. With seamless movement across genres—performance, architecture, installation, and visual art—Freeman/Lowe are able to not only transform space, but also experience and encounter.

Freeman/Lowe (who began collaborating in 2007) gave Marlborough Chelsea a make-over for the exhibition “Stray Light Grey,” their first at the gallery. While the exhibition’s title is a direct reference to the optical haze one experiences after looking at a very bright light, it is also an apt moniker for the experience of the exhibition. The only familiar orientation the duo leave for viewers is the traditional white cube gallery space at the first entrance. The room is filled with canvasses featuring grainy and pixelated screen-printed images of 1960s pop culture and classic Greek and Roman architecture. Layers of neon colored chaos on top augment the images underneath. An open door leading to a workroom replete with gaffer’s tape, step stools, a cordless drill and bonsai trees reveals a curious installation: two lavatories—one public, one private—are juxtaposed by the busted-out plaster board of their dividing wall. Stark grays, soiled whites and grimy tile in the one are contrasted by stained carpet; jewel toned wallpaper, and personal grooming items in the other. The wall behind the shower in the private bathroom is similarly destroyed, providing a window to a dank, yet brightly lighted hallway reminiscent of a modern day housing project.

Freeman/Lowe, Stray Light Grey Installation, 2012; Courtesy of the artists and Marlborough Chelsea.


The tenement hallway leads to an immaculate library and viewing room. Its pristine hardwood floor, polished cherry wood bookcases, and decorative flooring and wall inlay complement the sculptures made of crystals, urethane, and cacti on pedestals. The quaint portrait of a young woman on a wall between bookcases and the psychedelic images of ink on mirror paintings give the library a quirky yet personable feel. A jarring contrast lies in the placement of a retail outfit that is one-stop shopping for artfully designed cakes (blood diamonds or space kitten), edible undies, and t-shirts among other things on the other side of the library, and the spatial transformation continues through the duo’s clever division of space: a set of stairs leads up to an abandoned doctor’s office that once hosted impromptu plastic surgeries; another set of stairs leads down to a “basement” hallway with cement floors, exposed pipes and wires, and a pirate radio station; finally, another busted wall reveals an OTB parlor where wagers might be placed on peculiar images of food porn.

Freeman/Lowe, Stray Light Grey Installation, 2012; Courtesy of the artists and Marlborough Chelsea.


Perhaps Freeman/Lowe’s embedded juxtapositions and studies in contrast discombobulate and mesmerize because of our tendency to desire the best of both worlds—the good and bad, the beautiful and ugly. The duo’s references are familiar, yet unsettling when paired: fine art hanging on tenement hallway walls; used syringes lying on the counter and old prescription bottles in the cabinets of the doctor’s office presumably belonging to Mr. Benjamin Gottfried; or the VHS tape (a Japanese import) of Terminator 3 in the convenience store. Presence in a Freeman/Lowe environment activates the space and gives it meaning, but these immersive environments carry a freshness and warmth that give them life all on their own.


Lee Ann Norman


(Image on top: Freeman/Lowe, Star Mime, 2012, styrofoam, plaster and airbrush paint, 3 3/4 x 13 x 13 inches; Courtesy of the artists and Marlborough Chelsea.)


Posted by Lee Ann Norman on 9/30/12

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