Andrew Boatright’s current exhibition, entitled TRANSMOGRIFICATION at Twin Kittens Gallery, is shit-colored [August 24-October 8, 2013]. The persistent brown palette suffusing the show and the festering homespun presentation supports the observation that the work seems “bad,” if not bad with a capital B, supposing that term still holds traction as a category of art. But this is qualitatively misleading, as the works in the exhibition have more in common with sculpture situated in a discourse with commodity culture.
Sculptors like Jessica Stockholder, Rachel Harrison, and Jessica Jackson Hutchins make similar work with deceptively generic features, a more or less gloppy formlessness that resists categorization and herein lies the irony: these features, ineffably formed blobs, provocative agglutinations of commercial materials with infusions of color, don’t easily fall into an aesthetic history, yet, their openness deems an interest not attributed to standard discourse that normally makes a contemporary form worthy of contemplation. In evading attribution, works like these, and Boatright’s in particular, retain the mystery that makes anything worth contemplating in our over-saturated contemporary culture.
Literary critic and media theorist Sianne Ngai describes modern aesthetic categories in our hyper-saturated and heavily networked commodity culture as weak in contrast to more closed Kantian categories like the beautiful or sublime, which demand action. In the culture of late capitalism, designations like “cute” and “interesting” are more relevant because they operate as discourse extenders and less as activity catalysts. Ngai claims that in a contemporary society, qualities like “interesting” or “cute” have supplanted stronger relationships between the subject and object, necessitating our current vocabulary.1 The proliferation of the new and increasingly dialogic nature of interaction allows this new vocabulary to more closely reflect everyday reality, and, as a result, judgments of taste and artistic production are thus changed.
Contemporary sculpture like Boatright’s boasts a repertoire of features that triggers the recognition of otherness that ascribes interest on such objects. Although not figurative, the works read as beseechingly feeble. Works that aren’t elevated by pedestals are low slung with appendages that suggest an uneasy locomotion.
Untitled (Angelica) (2013) conjures something of a hybrid between a galactic cat and a cow. Made with cardboard and tape and finished with polyurethane adhesive, the small work’s incandescently moldy head and tail diverge from its seated torso, tapering to congruent points. Pink tissue lines openings at the head, beneath the body, and at the tail’s end. Medusa Oblongata (2013) is similarly animated, albeit diminished. It creeps away from the ensuing viewer in a stupor. Its soft-baked mud pie body sits atop under-evolved protrusions and a guileless tail, its majority composed of brown-slicked crumpled and repurposed stockings and tin foil.
Untitled (Teeto) (2013) uses all of the artist’s favorite materials to emphasize the formal agenda of the show. The only work not to be placed on an official support or perched on legs, it slumps low and teeters on crumpled newspaper that reads like a discarded restroom item. The rounded body tappers to a fluted end and resembles a sweaty mud-covered gourd. In this way, these sculptures resemble the work of Rachel Harrison whose polyurethane gobs are described as being “mislaid” in the gallery. They “sit in the room like yearning creatures caked in the sludge of capitalist desire.”2
Although symbolically similar to Harrison’s work in that capitalistic desire seems to underlie aesthetic appreciation of even the loftiest artworks, Boatright’s polyurethane adhesive seems to be less caked in desire and more resembling what Jessica Stockholder describes in her work as “composed all the way through.” Stockholder’s work makes use of repurposed and cast raw materials like plastic, which is consistently self-same and recognizably reified as a consumer product.
Boatright’s sculptures are uniformly brown in order to impute an all-the-way-through-ness. An interior would complicate the conceptually “open” quality to the forms, requiring the viewer to surmise the objects’ interior state(s), which for sculpture of an abstract self-reflective bent is counterproductive to creating “interest.” As sculptures, Boatright’s work deals with the notion of sculpture as an object in a networked commodity culture in two ways:
The first pertains to the work’s regurgitated or excremental properties, a visual metaphor that ties into the idea of the artwork as a consumed item. This notion also highlights the artwork as node where attention is both re-routed and utilized as sticking point where the contemplation of former commodity items are repurposed as pure form. Untitled (2013), a wall piece composed of raised polyurethane adhesive on insulation panel, most explicitly avoids figurative associations by using pure material on a support. Areas are raised, smeared, and coalesced into a Louise Bourgeois style crevice in the gallery’s lower right quadrant. The overall effect is somewhat less effective because of a faint hand print at the upper left hand corner of the work, but it nonetheless convincingly hammers home the processed, excremental feeling.
The second sub-theme linking the exhibition with society at large deals with the work’s conflict with its own support, seen to less effect in Untitled (Angelica) (2013), which sits on a sterile shelf attached to the wall. The theme is shrewdly asserted in Untitled (Icarus) (2013), a bird-like form resting on a pair of ironing board legs, which are in turn reinforced by a line of rebar and concrete block for foundation. The sculpture’s reliance on a separate and inert supplement seems an appropriate gesture to denote infirmity, but also as a clear signifier of “Artwork” status. The symbolic rupture between un-brown supports and the roiling vibrant matter of Boatright’s polyurethane adhesive reinforces difference while maintaining a continuity of style within itself and within a discourse of similar forms that likewise mine symbolic and stylistic terrains. The show’s syntactical tensions between mass and support and discursive push and pull conjure a feeling of both familiarity and distance.
In it’s messy “deposit,” the show fosters an alluvial viewing environment while simultaneously clarifying nuances inherent to contemporary viewing.
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