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“The Keeper”

New Museum
235 Bowery
July 20, 2016–October 2, 2016

Howard Fried, The Decomposition of My Mother’s Wardrobe, 2014–, 294 wardrobe items, dimensions variable.

Grandpa, kids, the rich, serial murderers: Everybody collects! Freud said it has something to do with toilet training—that losing one’s shit, quite literally, can be a traumatizing experience, and collecting is a way of cauterizing that early-childhood wound. That’s stupid, and deeply ungenerous. It doesn’t explain the eerie profundity of self-described “super-medium” Vanda Vieira-Schmidt’s Weltrettungsprojekt (World Rescue Project), 1995–, a small edifice comprising more than three hundred thousand drawings created to save humanity from supernatural forces of doom, or The Sketchbook from Auschwitz, ca. 1943, a handheld catalogue of horrors illustrating life at the most infamous of Nazi death camps, rendered by a phantom known only as “MM.” These works appear in “The Keeper,” a sprawling group exhibition that interrogates the impulses behind creating and, more specifically, amassing. There are plenty of trenchant offerings from sharp contemporary makers, such as Carol Bove (with Carlo Scarpa), Ed Atkins, Henrik Olesen, and Aurélien Froment. But really, the show belongs to the “outsider artists” (such an irritating appellation), whose obsessions and sorrows emanate freely—even suffocatingly—from their gorgeous, haunted objects.

Arthur Bispo do Rosário spent the majority of his life institutionalized, fashioning sublime sculptures and ecclesiastical garments from all manner of castoff in anticipation of the Last Judgment; Hannelore Baron’s delicate, scorched-looking Wunderkammern feel as though they were salvaged from hell; and the modernist quilts from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, made by descendants of slaves (Loretta, Quinnie, and Missouri Pettway here) are cold comfort pieces, borne of ingenuity, certainly, as well as a great deal of suffering. First-wave Conceptual artist Howard Fried, however, might win the prize for Most Startlingly Tender . . .and the Creepiest: The Decomposition of My Mother’s Wardrobe, 2014–, a memorial display of the artist’s dead parent’s clothes, shoes, and handbags, fastidiously organized and entombed behind glass. Through a byzantine selection and authorization process, you can get several pictures of yourself taken by Fried while wearing the deceased matron’s togs and, later on, attend a “celebratory event” in her honor. Filial adoration with a light powdering of necrophilia—moms aren’t easy to please.

Alex Jovanovich