Darren Bader

Darren Bader speaks about his exhibition in New York

View of “Darren Bader,” 2014.

Darren Bader’s multivalent practice includes writing, artist books, videos, and sculptures of found objects that have ranged from live kittens (to be adopted), to fruit and vegetables on pedestals (to be replaced as soon as they go bad), to people modeling their own body parts with objects (a breast with a camera), among other configurations. The New York–based artist speaks here about his latest exhibition, on view at Andrew Kreps Gallery from May 15 to June 21, 2014, which comprises a show on the wall, “Photographs I Like,” a show on the floor, “To Have and to Hold,” and a show on a piece of paper, available at the gallery’s front desk. Bader’s work was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and he is the recipient of the 2013 Calder Prize.

MY EXHIBITION is made up of three shows that don’t have a whole lot to do with each other. The first show has to do with current image circulation seen through an art-historical lens. The second has to do with objects and what they can and might not be. The third has to do with nouns, I think. They’re up simultaneously, but any “conversation” between them is fortuitous, with a couple exceptions.

I wanted this exhibition to be a way to address three ideas I’d been otherwise unable to resolve in a way I found meaningful enough. I don’t know if they’re fitting resolutions. I didn’t make much of anything for the shows. I often don’t make things, and if I do, it’s likely a fabricator’s hand at play. I usually just think about language and immediate optical experience and where piquant impressions and illusions can take you. A lot of this rests on objects and images. I embrace any thing that seems to make sense in a given situation—this is happily just an embrace of an embrace sometimes. The world is enormous, and I’m looking for some convention, however necessarily temporary, to address that in some conscientious and generous way.

I’m often puzzled by what the art world wants of its content, and I try to find a means of questioning this without compromising the above-mentioned impressions and illusions. There can be an exceptional visual, conceptual, and aesthetic merit to so many things in the world, whether in products of nonrarefied production and distribution, or through the lens of happenstance. TV programming, advertising, gaming, software design, interactive design, social media, industrial design, packaging design, etc.—all these are possibilities of what and how art might be, and they continue to be carefully ghettoized by art institutions, if registered at all. A worse curse than being called “folk art” is being called “entertainment.” Things that often appear or sound or feel formally resonant are kept apart by categories. However potent, playful, or poignant a product of human creation might be, it’s unlikely to be let into the museum as art.

I continually find this troublesome. Not so much because there’s a limited amount of room for the “magic” of art to work, which there inevitably is, rather that unresolved and meretricious shit gains outsized currency as art. For instance, do stretcher bars, in and of themselves, improve content? Does Professor XYZ have the mutant ability to turn all of his students into gifted artists? Is the exhumation of this or that neglected oeuvre an act of faith or an act of fashion? Should the doorman be fired for letting me into the club?

How will art history continue to have meaning short of blithe redundancy? It often seems like any bit of amnesiac, opportunistic homage will do. I don’t trust that the art world and its (infra)structures, however enthusiastic and inclusive they might at times be, are qualified to discern what today’s art might be. I might be a pathological romantic, but beauty still means something to me. I too rarely see powerful beauty in the products churned out for the art world. I know mediocrity is normal, but complacency is something else.

Let me spin it this way . . . art is commonly intuited as a home for the poetic. There is enough evidence of technical-cum-aesthetic skill in a wide variety of fields to safely say that there are some good “poets” out there. Mediocrity is normal, but good poetry is what matters.