Critics’ Picks

Darren Bader, Mundial #3, no date, printable digital image, 40 x 27".

Darren Bader, Mundial #3, no date, printable digital image, 40 x 27".

London

Darren Bader

Sadie Coles HQ | Bury Street
8 Bury Street
July 9–August 21, 2021

The title of Darren Bader’s fourth exhibition here, “Mends of Scott Friendes,” is a spoonerism: Scott Mendes is a fictional artist to whom Bader’s 2019 Venice Biennale project, planned as an AR-heavy affair, was partly ascribed. (Technical hitches delayed the app’s release to mid-2020.) Newcomers who mistake the work in this small, colorful show for that of a sculptor or Pop-surrealist painter may be forgiven. Setting them straight, however, would be no easy task. It’s notoriously hard to categorize Bader’s obtuse interventions, in which objects—found, or made by others to the artist’s designs—cede their autonomy under the spell of his elusive brand.

The ratio of original fabrications versus objets trouvés, in a typical Bader show, seems increasingly skewed toward the former. His concerns remain peculiarly post-retinal. He’s a Duchamp for the meme age, a connoisseur of lolz, tilting at a pitch of absurdity appropriate to our times. Appearing in a mural, a microphone dangles, limp, from the rear of a nude, male half-figure (Mundial #1, all works undated). A minor detail, it could stand for Bader’s process: a cheeky rewiring of the anti-aesthetic turn informed by wordplay and loopy misprision.

The show offers a rather sparse selection, materially speaking. There are two prints, a sculpture (it features a headless turtle in socks and a corncob fitted with an electric switch), and eight QR codes—five carved into a pedestaled cube. Scan these, and composite monsters appear, eerily hypnotized minions performing on cue. Visitors can mark the occasion with a £20 poster edition, a sort of rebus limned in the flattened, graphic style of John Wesley (Mundial #3). Pictured in it are several hands; variously toned and symmetrically arranged, they hold an array of objects, such as flashlights, their beams angled through the backs of loose eyeballs. If the Romantics cast the imagination as a source of light, Bader here suggests that meaning, or its nearest equivalent, is the production of many hands: an algorithmic-democratic poem.