Critics’ Picks

View of “Furling the Spanker: Masterworks from the Chadwicks’ Nautical Collection,” 2011.

New York

The Chadwicks

Winkleman Gallery
621 West 27th Street
July 16 - July 29

In William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, the protagonist Case enlists the help of a street gang called the Panther Moderns who create “random acts of surreal violence.” Triggering chaos by simulating terrorist attacks with fabricated threats, the group’s tactics prove that in an age of constant and immediate information dissemination, misinformation alone can be wielded as weapon. Similarly, in “Furling the Spanker: Masterworks from the Chadwicks’ Nautical Collection,” Lytle Shaw and Jimbo Blachly assert that misinformation, too, can be wielded as an art form.

Framing themselves as the archivists of the Chadwick family legacy, Shaw and Blachly meticulously gather and restore false artifacts, embellishing details from history and building a narrative, filling in gaps where they see fit. The Chadwicks, as the story goes, were a distinguished lineage in eighteenth-century British society who saw the height of their preeminence during colonial times, but whose golden age has long since passed. This exhibition––the Chadwicks’ second at Winkleman Gallery––is populated by nautical sketches, shipwreck memorials, and a scale model–cum-bar of the historical ship the HMS Victory. In one of the series, “Contemporary Sterns,” 2007–2009, vertical diptychs of aquamarine images of ruddy canal boats are juxtaposed against black text that relates a broken narrative––snippets “from the family archive”––told through arcane nautical jargon so faithfully re-created as to be comedic. Attempting to decode the language is futile, but the words themselves bob up and down like seasick poetry: THE MIZZEN TOPSAIL and THE LEE SCUPPERS BREAST-HIGH.

The show is littered with these detailed and purposeful “historical reinaccuracies.” Creating what is at once a caricature of what could have been and a fabrication of extreme nonsense, the artists themselves present an exaggerated portrayal of reality so accurate and idiosyncratic that it becomes absurd. Blurring the line between history and balderdash, the Chadwicks’ saga leaves one to wonder––could Jimbo Blachly really be the cocurator’s true name?