Critics’ Picks

Steven Siegel, Biography, 2008–10, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Steven Siegel, Biography, 2008–10, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

New York

Steven Siegel

Marlborough | Chelsea
545 West 25th Street
January 27–February 26, 2011

Steven Siegel’s latest mixed-media installation, Biography, 2008–10, is an epic seventy-five-foot-long mishmash of color and material that spans two massive walls. Shaggy carpet, fuzzy fabrics, and hundreds of tightly wound bundles of newspapers are harnessed on wooden planks and interwoven with a mess of gadgets, gizmos, and colorful craft supplies. From afar, Biography looks like a vast topographical map: Cables and hard drives and twinkly lights mime cities; thick black piping and power cords seem like strips of highways; the spines of newspapers resemble the color and texture of beach and mountains; and fluffy carpets in rich browns and oranges recall aerial views of farms.

As with most of Siegel’s work, an environmental critique is implicit—in Biography the litter of consumerism composes the look of our world. But the piece is complicated by its composition. Materials like plastic and polyester are mixed with beads and yarn, bound into brilliantly colored bunches and laced into a chaotic harmony. Much like Jackson Pollock, who organized a shambolic mess of paint into symphonies of color and texture, Siegel commands the detritus of our culture into a frantic rhythm, nailing contemporary anxieties about the environment to the wall. Siegel may image our world out of rubbish, but the result is ravishing, glittering, and glistening in all its synthetic, inorganic wonder.

Still, the objects in Biography are the pieces of our environmental crisis––pernicious, toxic, sometimes unrecyclable items that pollute our air and increasingly dominate our earth. As a result, this prodigious mass of art bursts with ambiguity: Siegel simultaneously trumpets our colorful wealth of objects and reminds us that consumption is, for better or worse, the cover of the twenty-first-century biography.