18 Wooster Street
“Suburban House Kit” was a full-scale suburban environment created by Adam Kalkin, with Jim Isermann, Martin Kersels, Aernout Mik, Tobias Rehberger, and Haim Steinbach. It included a prefabricated steel house, an origami garden, a backyard, a driveway, a car, and all the other amenities associated with suburban living. “Suburban House Kit” examined the American utopian vision from the point of view of an international group of architects and artists who are freely ambivalent about the financial and social structures that have shaped the American dream. It treated art, architecture, and commerce as an uninterrupted cultural continuum carefully evolved through Darwinian processes that promote the survival of a species at the expense of its individual members. Since these members are expected to express themselves through their consumer choices, they were able to buy all or part of the “Suburban House Kit,” assisted by an on-site sales and finance specialist who could help them to carefully craft a personalized vision from a menu of modularized desires.
Adam Kalkin, architect and artist, uses his work as a purgative to clear his mind of unwanted psychological detritus. His houses embody the paradoxes and ambivalence that are more often the domain of the art object than of the domestic environment. By appropriating the lexicon of the found object, Kalkin introduces an emotional ambiguity into an area of architecture that has long conformed to a limited set of effects. Neither conventional notions of comfort nor specific usage is encoded in his materials or spaces. His buildings possess a layered interiority: Found and reused structures create inner sanctums that recall childhood fortifications. The palatial volumes enclosed by his houses, together with the complex visual and visceral experiences they offer, make one feel that the spaces in which we live can themselves be transformative.
Carpet for the house was created by Jim Isermann, whose work has been at the forefront of contemporary art’s cross-fertilization with design. Over the past three decades, his diverse bodies of work have chronicled the conflation of postwar industrial design and fine art through popular culture.
A lone ball that blew in the wind in the backyard was a kinetic sculpture by Martin Kersels. Kersels is known for his conceptual combination of performance and sculpture.
Aernout Mik’s acclaimed video-sculpture Pulverous, 2003, was projected from the house’s second-floor window. Mik combines elements of video, sculpture, and performance in order to, as he has said, set “in motion the motors of a specific situation, involving the spectators’ reactions as physically and emotionally as possible.”
A unique origami garden was created by Tobias Rehberger for the front yard. Rehberger is known for his works that redefine garden sculpture.
The pantry of the house contained an exhibit of bathroom fixtures arranged by Haim Steinbach. Steinbach stated, “The object is ephemeral. Its position shifts from place to place. It is contingent on its context for its meaning, whether public or private.”
October 21 - December 22, 2017
18 Wooster Street
The faces are melting in Kenny Scharf’s new paintings. “Things are disintegrating,” he says, “I am reacting to our increasingly out-of-control situation.” Scharf’s work continues to be infused by his inexhaustible optimism and his sense of fun but there has always been an engagement with profound issues beneath the façade. Ecology, the environment, and capitalist excess have long been central themes. More recently, his paintings have shown his alarm over the effects of petroleum and the mountains of nondegradable plastic that are produced from it.
Scharf’s work has always combined and contrasted the pop culture he absorbed growing up in Los Angeles with the important innovations in modern and contemporary art. His earlier work fused Dali and Disney. More recently, he has been in dialogue with Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. In the new work, he merges his distinct style with color field and stain painting. “I like to connect with every movement in 20th-century art,” Scharf explains. “I make new hybrids, taking it all in and putting it in a blender.”
A distinctive style is something that Scharf admires in other artists and from the beginning has tried to achieve in his own work. He believes in art as an expression of individual identity. From his first mature work as a student at the School of Visual Arts, a painting by Kenny Scharf was instantly recognizable. Still adhering to his signature style, he continuously invents new forms.
Scharf is very enthusiastic about his new “sloppy style” that characterizes the major paintings in the exhibition. Rows of faces disintegrate into colorful drips reminiscent of both New York School painting and the serial imagery of minimal art. In these new works, Scharf is striving to create clear and simple forms that resonate with meaning. He feels liberated and excited, adding that “it is so much fun.”
The expression of emotion in art is essential to Scharf. Art that is cold leaves him cold. He explains that cartoon faces can express emotion with abstract power. Like his artistic colleagues from his early years in New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Scharf studied cartoons as a way to intensify figurative expression.
It is his early downtown history that brings Scharf back to New York this October. The Museum of Modern Art is opening an exhibition on the seminal performance space Club 57 in which Scharf played a central role. Watching him paint, one can see how his experience as a backup dancer for Klaus Nomi and his other performative roles have shaped his approach to his work. One side of his painting practice is detailed and meticulous to the extreme. The other side is tremendously physical and requires him to use his body like a dancer.
Visitors to Scharf’s Los Angeles studio are greeted by a hundred or more discarded plastic toys in his yard and on his roof. During the early part of his career, Scharf found his art materials in the garbage. To this day, he still stops his car when he finds plastic toys and TV sets thrown away on the street. These discarded plastic objects have inspired the two other bodies of work featured in the show: his Assemblage Vivant Tableaux Plastiques, and his TV Bax. The assemblage works, which are inspired by the Nouveau Realistes, are constructed from his stock of recycled plastic toys. The TV Bax are painted on the plastic backs of discarded television sets. Like the toys, the TV backs have a disconcerting anthropomorphic quality. Scharf wonders if their anonymous designers created these plastic covers, which are different for every model, to resemble a face.
Scharf finds these thrown-away toys and TV backs to be poignant objects, resonant with emotion. “Each of these objects carries a story,” Scharf explains. He thinks about how people might have struggled and sacrificed to buy these toys and TVs, and about the intense relationship that children and families have with them. Scharf resurrects the lives of these inanimate objects in his work. He also notes that garbage keeps changing with technology. The backs of TV sets used to have large protruding “noses.” Now they are flatter and more similar to a canvas.
Since his childhood, Scharf has been fascinated by outer space. Space travel and the portrayal of infinite space have long been central themes. In his life and in his work, he tries to eliminate boundaries and borders. As he pursues his dialogue with the great painters of the New York School, he is increasingly preoccupied with the inner space of painting. His exploration of inner space creates a dynamic tension with his passion for outer space. With his characteristic exuberance and his moral voice, Scharf reformulates his unique combination of Pollock and Pop to create a vibrant new body of work.
Photo Credit: The1point8 and Adam Reich
Read about the Club 57 exhibition at MoMA in the New York Times here.
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