Critics’ Picks

Omnivore, Character of Vicissitudes, 2020, offset print on scalloped-edge restaurant placemat, 9 3/4 x 13 3/4".

Omnivore, Character of Vicissitudes, 2020, offset print on scalloped-edge restaurant placemat, 9 3/4 x 13 3/4".

New York

“Wrecked Alphabet”

Broodthaers Society of America
520 West 143rd Street
October 4–December 5, 2020

Given the prevailing trend of infographics—think Hank Willis Thomas’s chart Colonialism and Abstract Art, 2020, a reimagining of Alfred H. Barr’s diagram for his 1936 exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art,” or Dylan Louis Monroe’s ongoing QAnon-adjacent Deep State Mapping Project, 2017—it seems about time to scrutinize how texts and schematics proposing networks of connection and scattered over pages and screens, or even painted on cans of vegetables, became the look of the zeitgeist.

The group exhibition here, “Wrecked Alphabet,” crams a whirlwind of propositions into a small parlor floor of an old Harlem brownstone, a venue that serves as something of an ongoing homage to the midcentury Belgian poet/artist and grand master of ceremonial failure Marcel Broodthaers. Appropriately enough, a bit of elaborately conceived wisecracking and thousand-yard-stare humor suffuses many of the pieces, authored by a wide array of artists and writers. Right at the entrance is a pair of multimedia-on-panel works by Pope.L titled Fushia Jesus and Fushia Pussy (both 2017–18), because that’s what each one spells out in loose, wet-on-wet­­ letters. Sydney Wilder’s wall poster Apology Alphabet, 2020, lists an out-of-order alphabet, beginning at e and ending at z. Each letter is assigned a variation on a simpering expression of contrition (e.g., “I’m sorry for my unresponsiveness”). It’s the sort of thing one often doesn’t mean sincerely but finds oneself saying in order to lubricate some unfortunate, but somehow necessary, personal interaction.

A small, low table displaying various documents and stationery projects by the design firm Omnivore includes a conspiratorial pie chart (!!!) with a yin-yang symbol at the center pointing out the twelve-year increments between major world events, such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, framed by an orderly text collage featuring various definitions of the word character, all of which is printed on a paper restaurant placemat. Too much information, attractively designed, and suggesting webs of relationships that may make one question reality—in 2020, it’s what’s for breakfast.