Cameron Shaw

Barbara Krakow Gallery

In Cameron Shaw’s most recent show, his assisted readymades, inspired by Duchamp and Magritte, seemed to levitate. The artist’s carefully selected commonplace objects defied gravity with the help of well-placed magnets, in work that toyed with the psychology of perception while revealing the tricks of the artist as self-styled magician. Among the nine such works were a fakir’s rope ascending to the sky, a black derby floating in a vitrine, cigars and pipes suspended from strings, and a quill pen that appeared to write a letter (in which a son describes his father’s death to his brother) by drawing ink from an antique glass bottle. The latter, Shaw’s most impressive piece, Mould P, 1997, infused the fabricated boxes and yellowed missives of earlier works with a kind of magic realism.

The meaning of these surrealist objects may ultimately be elusive, but these works are fraught with highly personal references to the artist’s past, his fantasies, and the passage of time itself. Indeed, the artist’s persona was omnipresent in what was his most lyrical and focused exhibition to date. Wire with Hands, 1997, and Candle Legs, 1997, (the only sculptures not fitted with magnets) are actual casts of Shaw’s own large appendages. Resin hands were hung from wires at a height equal to the artist’s own, while beeswax legs, truncated above the kneecap and supplied with wicks, were outfitted in Shaw’s signature brown suede wing-tip oxfords and dark dress socks. The latter work recalled a Robert Gober sculpture from 1989–90—a leg protruding from a wall with actual human hair sprouting from its wax “skin”—though Shaw’s less visceral, hairless prostheses-as-votive candles are odder, even fetishistic. The candle as symbol of enlightenment and mortality has been a constant in Shaw’s work over the last decade; in Candle with Wall Sconce, 1997, the illusion of levitation was at its most convincing. Dripping wax into a metal receptacle, a lit storm candle floated above the viewer’s head and was tethered with twine to a wrought-iron sconce on a wall a few inches away. Thanks to tiny magnets attached to the candle by a string and placed behind a mirror almost twelve feet away on the opposite wall, the diminishing candle seemed implausibly drawn toward its reflected image—to the artist’s flirtation with the notion that art is a magical force.

In Shaw’s polarized universe, an old black bowler hat like the one habitually worn by Magritte is reflected in a mirror as it hangs from two strings in a wood-and-glass display case. Vitrine with Derby, 1996–97, preserves this symbol of polished masculinity and Magritte’s surrealism, as if to continue Shaw’s dialogue with male-dominated art history. Shaw transforms ordinary objects into self-referential fetishes—male counterparts to, say, Rosemarie Trockel’s feminist objects.

Francine Koslow-Miller