Summer is over, but I was reminded of some of the public art I saw in New York City this summer when I reread this great article on Hyperallergic discussing Kara Walker’s Subtlety and Jeff Koon’s Split Rocker and how both use the monumental forms of public art. Split Rocker, a mammoth topiary riffing on childrens’ toys, has an illustrious visitation record, being shown at Versailles before its recent incarnation this summer at Rockefeller Center in New York City. In both cases, Koons takes advantage of the long public vista to create a dominating perspective for the eye to stare down and, secondarily, a sense of irony when the playful bearer of the eye is considered. In Versailles, the vegetation referenced the history of the gardens surrounding the palace and its carefully pruned hedges. Amid Rockefeller Center’s towering buildings and hard asphalt, it seems equally light-hearted but totally vacuous.
This piece is named Split-Rocker because it takes the two different rockinghorse models and splices them together, the disjunct most clearly seen in the metal edging when viewed from the side. The playful irony continues by presenting the blown-up children’s toy where one might expect a monument or heroic statue.
In a nod to the season, the surface is made up on flowers, which will grow and blow at different points through the summer, giving it some amount of variability. In Koon’s work, this superficial layer of vegetation is just that: superficial. Although artists have done interesting works that change because of natural growth over time, this piece is carefully maintained to always bloom and be colorful.
Tellingly, when I saw Split-Rocker in July, I was strongly reminded of a recent trip to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The plant-covered sculptural installations there greatly resemble the Koon’s piece, but they certainly do not function in the art market at all like one, nor are they considered high art.
What do two Disney scenes have to do with Photoshoping missiles being fired? Or, for that matter, with a clearly computer-generated chair design and a white porcelain sculpture of a curiously bedecked man’s head? Ostensibly nothing, and I think that remains the case even after viewing Austrian artist Oliver Laric’s video Versions at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington D. C. several times. The linking thread in the chain of images in Versions is the accompanying female voice. In doing so, the artist makes the point that the linking thread of many contemporary cultural products in the remix culture of today are works of just such an amalgamated sourcing.
With the utmost professionalism and authority, the voice expounds on the philosophy of images, image-making today, and copies through such examples. Perhaps surprisingly, such a theoretical topic does not become boring, and if heavy-handed, pointedly so. Just as the images are created and remixed to tell this story, the words are also largely a remix. Taking from both high and low culture, Laric quotes from Borges but also James Brown, thus mimicking the same questions of authenticity and originality that he is tackling.
The post about this show, which closed July 26, has been sitting in my drafts folder, but for lack of time rather than lack of things to say. The works of China Marks, Rick Newton, and Sally Curcio, interesting in their own right, were placed in thoughtful, playful dialogue with each other in the show A Redefined Existence at the J. Cacciola Gallery in Chelsea.
Rick Newton’s clean-lined paintings register as normal at first, only to be belied with a touch of the surreal. The realistic rendering and precision of his painting style lends a cold edge to the combination of rationality represented by technological advanced vehicles and weapons and the irrationality of the blank background and details like the reaching claw in the painting above.
Sally Curcio creates miniature worlds in the series on view. Her clean edges come from the re-purposing of plastic products to create cheerful, sweet worlds encased in glass bubbles. No less fantastical, and perhaps more accessible and inviting to the touch, are the sewn panels by China Marks. Marks creates scenes with characters and words that just stop just short of narrative.
Overlaid with embroidery and different fabrics, the fabric panels recall the set up of cartoon panels but also the history of the craft of sewing and embroidery samplers. I read many of them as having a dark, slightly uneasy quality, like in the dialogue below. But open-ended as they are, it up to the viewer whether such statements are unsettling or funny.