Critics’ Picks

Byron Kim, Elevated Surface, 2019, wood, metal, acrylic, dimensions variable.

New York

“Better Homes & Gardens”

Chen's
Please contact for address
August 17–September 21, 2019

In 1980, philosopher Liang Shuming asked, “Will the world get better?” This group presentation—featuring contributions from Alston Watson, Mama Yoshi, Bettina Yung, Lu Zhang, and the queer footwear company Syro, among other artists and entities—seems to answer Liang’s question, albeit obliquely, in a deceptively ordinary setting.

The show is set within a Brooklyn townhouse apartment restored by Howie Chen, the gallery’s cofounder and the exhibition’s curator. The flat is outfitted with sundry IKEA appointments, and artworks are scattered about casually, as if they were someone’s personal belongings. Tiffany Sia’s Salty Wet (all works cited, 2019), a chapbook-cum–porno rag (done in collaboration with Impatient Press), is placed on a side table in a bedroom. Salty Wet’s cover is taken from a 1989 issue of Lung Fu Pao (Dragon-Tiger-Leopard), a soft-core skin mag from Hong Kong (funds from the publication’s sales will “be donated to Beijing students,” according to its headlines). Inside this piece, the artist imagines Hong Kong as a sci-fi axis mundi, though it is utterly doomed: “There is no Hong Kong anymore . . . the world’s first postmodern city to die.”

Anicka Yi’s Parthenogenesis Pathways is a large, candelabra-like structure that sits in the center of the living room, as if it were a Christmas tree. It features a scent made by the artist called “Shigenobu Twilight,” a name that refers to Fusako Shigenobu, the creator and former leader of the Japanese Red Army. Yi chose cedar as the fragrance’s base note because the tree is the national emblem of Lebanon, where Shigenobu was in exile. And just outside the townhouse is Byron Kim’s Elevated Surface, a picnic table with legs sourced from a wooden barrier that once belonged to the New York Police Department.

Indeed, the show takes on “status quo” aesthetics in order to subvert them, utilizing the terrain of the domestic as a testing ground for political and revolutionary thought. “This exhibition recasts the Situationist imperative to ‘invent new décor’ to fit our current phantasmagoric reality,” states Chen in the press release. Good taste doesn’t have to abjure the dangerous.