New York

Collier Schorr

303 Gallery

Collier Schorr’s haunting and nasty debut show expresses the relationship many of us have to its subject, childhood. Schorr’s installation reminds the viewer that childhood is frequently more troubled, and for that reason troublesome to remember, than the never-never land represented in picture books and photo albums suggests. Though forever behind us, it remains a puzzling constellation of memories that animates our adult lives.

On one wall, enlarged color photographs of black and white prints from a photo album (toddlers in backyards or on the beach) are randomly overlaid with line illustrations (Christopher Robin, et al.) as well as with the occasional stray (and elegantly italicized) word: “duty,”“obey.”Arrayed about the other three walls are ghostlike articles of children’s clothing cast in white plaster. These levitating garments, devoid of bodies, hang in chilly suspense, defining a void in the way that drapery in Hellenistic sculpture defined the human form.

A peek under a dress reveals handwritten messages suggesting graffiti from a lavatory or a tomb. Though some are obscene (a penis in decoupage; a hastily-scrawled “Given half a chance, she would push her up the wall and fuck the shit . . . out of him”), others are not (“Sissy boy be brave,” “Peel me like a fruit/Glaze me like a ham”). The inscriptions are disturbing not because they are alien or perverse but because they are familiar; they shock with recognition, and the viewer wonders that they could have been buried so deeply in memory.

These casts of overalls and dresses evoke the moment in early life when gender-identification sets in for good and one is encased in the male or female identity—in pants or in a skirt. The scribbled-on casts suggest not only that each individual is forced to conform—to wear a social uniform—but that forms of dress determine acts of speech. By calling to mind all the bad and scary things that happen to and among children as they struggle with gender-identification and socialization, Schorr demonstrates a remarkable talent for remembering things past in this bitter, troubling, and darkly humorous visual elegy.

Justin Spring