PRINT November 2021


Kayode Ojo, Afterparty for Robert Bittenbender and Maggie Lee “Flowers in the Attic” at Bed Stuy Love Affair, The Cardinal, New York, NY, Valentine’s Day, 2015, Uniqlo (White), 2019, Uniqlo jeans, Jane Stone sexy gold-color tassel body-chain necklace fashion statement jewelry (Fn1095), Hamilton Stands KB400 classic American folding sheet-music stand (chrome), Glacier Bay beveled-edge bath mirror, dimensions variable.

Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture. Usually it has been related, closely or distantly, to one or the other.
—Donald Judd, “Specific Objects,” 1964

THE SCULPTURES OF KAYODE OJO have the vibe of the antique future—wasn’t that the title of an important late-1980s group show by Collins & Milazzo? I’m picturing too-sleek critical-advertorial art, like the work of Ashley Bickerton and Haim Steinbach, Frank Majore and Richard Prince. The monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, traveling between man’s prehistoric origins and his future-fantastic-frightening destiny, also comes to mind. Yet Ojo’s menhirs and boxes, suitcases and vanities, sustain decidedly nontranscendental connotations: I’m thinking of those Swiss Army knives you might purchase (if you weren’t me) from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue. Nose-hair trimmers. Really rad shaving accoutrements.

Kayode Ojo, where did all the money go?, 2020, Milo Baughman–style two-tier chrome bar cart, Graflex Crown Graphic police camera kit, 51 × 33 × 20 1⁄2".

Ojo’s sculptures, all chrome and transparent, Lucite and shiny, look managed, polished, svelte and designer and “fancy,” though many of the materials employed over and over again are actually pretty cheap: fast fashion from Zara, metal music stands, pedestal tables like the one I saw at Home Depot for $266.99. Is there an index to Walter Benjamin that will cross-reference “flashy”? Fast fashion is supposed to be bad for the environment, bad for Africa, just really bad; I read something to that effect in The Guardian, I think. The point is I’m pretty sure—and if I’m wrong, let the artist correct me—Ojo doesn’t really care. The seemingly endemic caring-a-lotness of “the” culture isn’t really all that caring; the concern is fake. “Virtue signaling” may be a telltale sign of revanchist (at best) attitudinizing; it’s also a pretty spot-on term for all sorts of playacting. Cheapness isn’t just from Lot-Less.

Kayode Ojo, Closed Audition: Yvonne Force Zebra Playa Caftan, 2018, C-print, 39 7⁄8 × 26 3⁄8".

Ojo studied photography at New York’s School of Visual Arts, graduating in 2012, though his more recent réclame celebrates the sculptures. Understandable, as the latter at least look like they’re promising power and wealth and oppression and style, however rickety they appear on examination, whereas the men—they’re mostly men and sometimes Ojo in drag—in the photographs are human, all too human. If this is fashion, it’s école de Tillmans, vulnerable and approachable and real. The see-through histrionics of Ojo’s more material works are pure pretend Beyond Good and Evil, all braggart supermen. 

The artist has his share of obvious cool and smart and even beautiful art-historical precursors or models—Banks Violette, Tom Burr, maybe Sylvie Fleury because shiny and shopping; more distant, Robert Morris’s mirror works, Robert Smithson’s mirror works, with maybe a California detour through Light and Space and Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman. Mary Corse feels too churchy: Once more, Ojo’s work is all very male in its aspirations. Oh, and Jeff Koons because obviously and John Armleder because Swiss.

Kayode Ojo, #40, 2009, C-print, 4 × 6".

Tellingly, Morris is the most throbbingly present of Ojo’s 1960s-vanguard precursors, as he was very up-front about the impurities in Minimalist—in his—notions of sculpture, whereas it’s rather harder to ascribe that candor to Judd; it’s just plain wrong. Judd might have said he was rigorously anti-idealist and credibly meant it, but after a while all those dazzling immaculate boxes and stacks (“one thing after another,” ad infinitum) start to look pretty darn idealist—spiritual, even, if you’re being mean. Morris took the implicit psychosis of the Minimalist object to I won’t say its logical extreme, but, you know, to an extreme. Writing a preface to a show of his mirror-modular sculptures at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery in 1979, he tells of how uneasy he was when the mirror insinuated itself into his work; it was “disco degenerate.” But this degeneracy was appealing: “Its very suspiciousness seemed a virtue.” This fun attitude—Morris’s embrace of a previously disavowed device, with its flagrant psychologism and galling anthropomorphism—prepares us for Ojo’s self-conscious but unselfconscious hustler machines. In Ojo’s hands, the mirror is scopophilic (of course), even pornographic, clean but dirty (don’t touch or it’ll get greasy), and slutty, liable to seduce and betray. Ojo exploits his own degeneracy by playing the window dresser in his sculptures, the paparazzo in his photography. I’m reminded of a line from one of Flaubert’s letters to poor, poor pitiful Louise Colet about Madame Bovary: “The entire value of my book, if it has any, will consist of my having known how to walk straight ahead on a hair, balanced above the two abysses of lyricism and vulgarity.”

Kayode Ojo, No.5 The Film (São Paulo, Milan, New York, Los Angeles), 2017–19, Sorceress navy-blue velvet maxi dress, Topwholesalejewel bridal long 5-strand silver crystal earrings, 50-mm StarSide crystal chandelier teardrop prisms, crystal-bead lamp chain, Hamilton Stands KB400 classic American folding sheet-music stand (chrome), dimensions variable.

Ojo’s sculptures and photographs, taken together, at first puzzled me. I didn’t understand the relationship between them; the photography seemed to belong to a very different artist. But both photography and sculptures are setups; they speak like mise-en-scènes, with stage directions and art directions. Many of Ojo’s photographs skirt the border between staged and point-and-shoot aesthetics; documentary premises are invaded by the spirit of “critical” photography. Maybe it’s a matter of his photos’ being aspirational: Some are like party photographs, à la the Cobrasnake, or like Nan Goldin (aspirational in its own way). Like Ojo’s sculptures, these flash photos are filled with signifiers of a certain kind of success.

David Rimanelli is a contributing editor of Artforum.