Critics’ Picks

View of “Images,” 2012.

View of “Images,” 2012.

New York

Darren Bader

22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
January 29–May 14, 2012

One of the cats hid under the couch. But the sweet black-and-white one cuddled and played. They were up for adoption from the SaveKitty Foundation of Queens, New York, and they were sculptures by Darren Bader. “Each cat-adopter will get an artwork,” reads his text on the wall. “If you don’t want your cat to be an artwork, I won’t force it on you!” Throughout his show, “Images,” the metabolic processes of eating, digestion, growth, and death—vividly present in the animals and plants on display—nourish Conceptualist gestures of naming and framing. (The title of one cat is given as “orangutan flesh and Vitamin Water”; the other is a “reincarnation of Ronald Reagan.”) Organic matter has appeared in other artists’ work in the form of the performing body, or as the subject of a parascientific experiment. But those are exceptional cases; in making life art, they distance viewers from that life. Bader just shows us the ravenous inclusivity of art’s ecology of signs—arguably, he even expands it—while giving a shrug that makes it seem both ordinary and excitingly, reachably ripe.

A few doors down from the cats, an iguana named Buddy lounges in a big heated cage. “Green iguanas like this guy here need specific environmental conditions to be healthy,” reads another of Bader’s texts. The guileless generalizing of encyclopedia prose stumbles on familiar references to this one beast. Buddy illustrates an idea and is the singular cause for its communication—an image of an iguana that is also an iguana. A label announces another gallery’s contents as “chicken burrito / beef burrito,” but you’re met instead by sunlight and music. The instrumental intro to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” loops in a jangly carousel, wanting to spin out into the full song. The room feels full of possibility. The burritos are in the corner, slouched on the windowsill. They look almost good enough to eat.