Critics’ Picks

View of “Cameron Rowland,” 2016.

View of “Cameron Rowland,” 2016.

New York

Cameron Rowland

Artists Space Exhibitions
38 Greene Street 3rd Floor
January 17–March 13, 2016

Few artists in recent memory have put more at stake so early in their careers than Cameron Rowland. His institutional debut here concerns itself with nothing less fraught than the persistent legacy of slavery within a thoroughly neoliberal twenty-first-century America. In the exhibition, Rowland presents a series of sculptures in the form of isolated, unmodified consumer and industrial goods whose histories of use, production, and acquisition are documented in their titles’ captions and a takeaway text available to visitors. A portion of the goods were sourced from Corcraft, a division of the New York State Department of Corrections that sometimes conscripts inmates into prison labor and sells the goods they produce for wages as low as one-fiftieth of the legal minimum to other government agencies and nonprofits. In his selection and presentation, Rowland identifies lodestones of US economic power and bureaucratic self-reflexivity—a tactic he has previously deployed to harrowing effect.

Armatures of government administration, such as New York State Unified Court System and Attica Series Desk (all works 2016), take the form of courtroom benches and an office desk. Leveler (Extension) Rings for Manhole Openings are aluminum leveler rings for manhole hatches that obliquely reference the importance of convict road-building in the post–Civil War, preindustrial South. Insurance’s container-lashing bars and Lloyd’s register certificates evoke the maritime transport of property foundational both to the historical slave trade and to contemporary, globalized manufacturing. And a pair of flame-retardant firefighters’ suits from Corcraft’s West Coast equivalent CALPIA (the California Prison Industry Authority)—1st Defense NFPA 1977, 2011—bring together the criminalized body and the body-at-risk in a single, collapsed figure.

If the work’s rigid, austere program reveals any weakness at all, it may be its aesthetic dimension, which occasionally veers into Minimalist sublimity. Such moments are redeemed, however, by an artist whose political commitments can never find complete resolution solely in the realm of the visual.