Bradford Kessler’s cut-out panels coated in a paint-like sealant called hydroflex are not quite paintings or sculptures. Neither do they seem to be of the crowd that questions the nature of painting using sculptural methods (to name a few practitioners: Jacob Kassay, Nathan Green, Lisa Sigal, and Kenji Fujita). So what are they? They are weird and maybe boring, but boring in a way that hangs out at the edge of one’s consciousness for days. They are like a child’s bed set, retired to the curb for trash pick up where the last people to see the chipped headboard and broken dresser will wonder about the grown kid who scratched drawings into the soft wood. Why, they will wonder, did that kid like clowns so much?
Pile of Mist is Kessler’s first solo show at the Manhattan outpost of the artist-run Brooklyn gallery 247365. The location, a Chinatown basement under a Buddhist temple and an incense shop, is sufficiently mystical for the work, which is almost all white save for subtle gradients of blue or orange. The drawings on the panels are “engraved” into the surface and sometimes emphasized with a hint of water-based marker. There is also a scattering of hand-sized cast resin sculptures that are more color saturated and reminiscent of fishing lures with names like the “Trigger X® Aggression Flappin' Bug.” Flappin’ bugs they are not, but rather each piece, all called Young Grandfather (2014), is a dog nose with a tobacco pipe hanging from its jowls, attached to the back of a horseshoe crab-esque sea creature. The crustaceans also appear on the panels, which share the name New Icon (from the Mist) (2014), as do sad clowns, shafts of wheat, and sad clowns with crustacean beards. An actual sheaf of wheat is tucked into a recess in the gallery wall, with a story-length title that gives insight into the strange dream world where all this iconography resides. An excerpt: “Old man sniffing hard now, advancing toward me with some sort of mid-evil weapon that looks like it's been formed out of cryogenically frozen body parts.” (2014).
This psychic landscape, in tandem with the tennis ball gags, Mistletoe (3,2,1) (2014), hanging at the entrance to the basement, gives the show an air of ghetto gothic fashion—the tongue-in-cheek, stylized suggestion of violence and bondage mixing with allusions to science fiction and a dash of the suburban mall. I am also told that there was a smoke machine at the opening. Had it been operational when I visited I might have registered the vibe more immediately.
Under the slickness of its exterior, Kessler’s work evokes average American mundanity and a particular imagination attached to it. Its past is in the wheat field and primordially in the skeleton of the sea creature. Its present fascinations lean towards the kitsch and fatalism. Set up as a surprise installation, with no mention on the checklist or acknowledgment on the gallery website, the most fun part of the show can be found in the gallery’s bathroom where crisp white socks printed with bleak non sequiturs and goofy clip-art hang in pairs, illuminated by a fluorescent blacklight tube. Reads the pair by the toilet: “I’M LOWER THAN WHALE SHIT,” (right sock) “AND THAT’S THE LOWEST THING THERE IS,” (left sock). No one can know if that’s true, but it does give you something to think about.
(All Images: Bradford Kessler, Installaion view; Courtesy of the artist and 247365 Gallery)