Critics’ Picks

Candy Jernigan, CANADIAN STATIONERY PT I: Three Notebooks And A Pen, n.d., colored pencil on paper, 12 x 16".

Candy Jernigan, CANADIAN STATIONERY PT I: Three Notebooks And A Pen, n.d., colored pencil on paper, 12 x 16".

New York

Candy Jernigan

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street Ground Floor
June 27–August 9, 2019

There’s always a lot of junk in galleries. But here, the garbage is pure gold.

The late and forever great Candy Jernigan (1952–1991) had a thing for the discarded and defiled, be it pop-tops, moist cigar butts, or a rat’s carcass. The artist, who lived in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sourced the materials for her collages and drawings from the filthy, crime-addled streets right outside her studio door. Jernigan’s Found Dope, 1986, a taxonomic display of drug paraphernalia including residue-y dime bags and crack vials, was presented by the artist at a neighborhood meeting as proof of the sordid local goings-on and was almost seized by law enforcement.

Yet the works at Greene Naftali feel more buoyant, likely because they document the stuff of the artist’s trips to Italy, India, and the American Midwest, among other places—life away from seamy Gotham. Two drawings, one in pastel and the other in colored pencil, depict a bottle cap for Squirt soda: Travel Series – Part 4, Bottle Cap – Yucatán, 1984, and Oberlin, Ohio, Midwest Tour, 1983, respectively. The pieces call to mind Warhol’s dictum on Coca-Cola as a class equalizer: “The President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and . . . you can drink Coke, too.” Jernigan reminds us that trash is just as democratizing—the same strain of commercial refuse can appear anywhere in this world, from a sleepy college town to a Mexican state that is home to ancient Mayan ruins.

The strangest works in the show are the artist’s colored-pencil portraits of seemingly fresh-off-the-shelf stationery from Canada. Lined paper, datebooks, envelopes, a pink Buffalo eraser, and more are rendered in the artist’s inimitable drawing style: a marriage of Elizabeth Murray’s wobbly formalism, kinked with the jittery line work of Krazy Kat. Looking at these pictures is like seeing yourself in a cheap mirror—as a vaguely distorted but familiar sight that mildly boggles while it mysteriously enlightens.