A group show at Wallspace gallery a few blocks away from the Sarah Sze exhibition at Tonya Bonakdar also deals with the transformation of everyday objects, but in a much less extravagant, more lo-fi fashion. Including work by Jay DeFeo, John Divola, Martha Friedman, Daniel Gordon, Ryan Kitson, Jiří Kovanda, Kiyoji Otsuji, Adam Putnam, Laura Riboli, Judith Scott, Martin Soto Climent, Erika Vogt, Christopher Williams and Mark Wyse, the exhibition--Drag, Swagger, Fit Together--draws its name from a recent video piece by Laura Riboli which depicts two metal objects interacting with each other in stop-motion animation. The objects somewhat resemble large flat paperclips or bookends and fit together rather suggestively, their movements just measured enough to appear oddly sensual. In the same room a pair of green stockings are stretched out over a white canvas, with a high heel shoe inserted in the crotch area, alluding to male genitalia. Opposite this hangs a photograph by Jay DeFeo depicting a pair of reclining disembodied legs, perhaps a mannequin’s, with ripped pantyhose. Similar prosthetic limbs reappear in the show in a 1949 photograph by Kiyoji Otsuji.
The prosthesis--as an artificial extension of the body, replacing something that’s missing--is an apt metaphor for looking at the works in the show, as they deal with the absence of the artist’s body, or the extension of the body in objects. The works in Swagger, Drag, Fit Together exhibit a pervasive sense of subject-object confusion. Some of the works are so banal they become quite boring, yet others speak to the strange value of objects, by their own strangeness. A wrapped sculpture by outsider artist Judith Scott is at first surprising in its inclusion and yet seems to provide an essential key to understanding the show. Born deaf and with Down syndrome, Scott took objects that were precious to her and wrapped them with yarn, fibers and branches, until the objects, no longer visible, nestled hidden in a cocoon of material.
Other pieces seem to participate in a paradoxical act of restraint and unraveling. The sculptures on view quite literally explore this concept through extreme tension, while a Jiří Kovanda piece subtly explores social constraints through bodily interventions. A few photographs from John Divola’s Vandalism Portfolio show split-second effects of the artist’s quiet rage in abandoned spaces, a thrown book or piece of clothing frozen in mid-air by the camera, a series of spray-painted patterns evoking a ritualistic mark-making. A group of short videos by Adam Putnam flicker between a restrained movement and a meditation.
What’s interesting about this show, intentionally or unintentionally, is the dialogue opened up between works created around the 1970’s and works made just a few years ago. Succinctly expressed by Mark Wyse’s 2008 piece Bruce Nauman / Barbara Kruger which exhibits two reproductions of Nauman's and Kruger's next to each other, we see their works in dialogue, in retrospect and through the lens of contemporary conditions. Many of these works were made in the midst of economic crisis or social upheaval (Divola’s interventions performed around the time of the oil crisis, Kovanda’s during a depression in Czechoslovakia, Otsuji in post-war Japan), and evoke a sense of restraint, withholding, confusion, deprivation and isolation, which perhaps make them all the more pertinent today.
John Divola, Vandalism Portfolio 74V2, 1974, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in image; 18 ¼ x 14 ¼ in framed.
Jay DeFeo, Untitled, 1973 Silver gelatin print, 4 ½ x 4 ½ in image; 17 x 14 x 1 in framed.
Ryan Kitson, Floor, Wall, Plank, Ball, 2006, Mixed media: wood, hydrastone and enamel, 51 x 9.5 x 51.5 in.
Mark Wyse, Bruce Nauman / Barbara Kruger, 2008, Framed reproductions, Two pieces: 19 x 31 ¼ in each.
All images courtesy of the artists and Wallspace, New York.)