New York

Toland Grinnell

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

Toland Grinnell is unapologetically aspiring to the condition of fashion. The young artist has gone from using Samsonite suitcases as quirky unfolding Duchampian constructions to designing and fabricating his own “line” of traveling trunks worthy of Louis Vuitton. For his first New York show in two years, Grinnell presented a thirty-four-piece set of these cases, collectively titled Pied-à-terre, 2001-2002—aligning himself with the creation and advertising of exquisite and pricey commodities and the desires of a consumer population. He even “branded” himself, adorning each of his objects with a gleaming logo: an overlapping T and G in gold that was meant to be as recognizable as the coveted and venerable Vuitton LV or Hermès orange. This work insists that making a piece of art should be like making a luxury item. Looking at art isn't far from shopping: You go for what you like—those of us who might find the project outré be damned.

Designed by Grinnell and constructed with the assistance of others, each valise was beautifully made in creamy reed trimmed with leather and fitted with gold hardware. Together the works constitute a carefully conceived, portable Upper East Side maisonette, a wonderful fetishistic fantasy of wealth and extravagance that is entirely functional and usable, offering the basic human comforts: a place to sleep, eat, and bathe. There are his-and-hers sinks, monogrammed TG towels, and a fully operative kitchen (water is channeled via a pneumatic pump for showering and dishes), as well as a portable library with empty frames for art or personal photographs. You can curl up in front of the fireplace before retiring to the tent, which is outfitted with a queen-sized bed and topped with a fake-fur comforter; a small case is stocked with condoms, a tube of lubricant. and a gold dildo. The inside lids of many of the trunks are mirrored, confirming them as narcissistic gadgets. Grinnell imagined everything that two people might need—though it's clear that these “basics” are for those who, even while away from home, would never want to be too far from the Four Seasons.

The exhibition was titled “A Mobile Home & Other Necessities,” the “other necessities” being one of the world's truly precious commodities. In a small side gallery, three works made with rolls of toilet paper fulfilled more traditional notions of sculpture but nonetheless bore the definitive TG stamp. One was a monumental vertical stack of rolls covered with a gridded network of leather straps and gold chains. On the wall, 144 rolls were similarly bound in a Judd-like progression; in a smaller version, called Lockdown, 2002, the rolls were tightly bound by dozens of gold locks, leather straps, and gold chains. These works slyly ape but also mock the conventions of Minimalism and undercut the seriousness of modernism in general, which Grinnell seems to have no use for. Yet this move is not some Dada displacement of merchandise into an art context to upend both art and commerce. Rather, Grinnell is an uncompromising aggrandizer of the object and the product, almost like a nineteenth-century dandy in his embrace of surface and cosmetic finery. And his concern with aesthetics, refinement, and craft offers materialism as escape from both the low, coarse world at large and from the realm of contemporary art, which, if we take Grinnell and his toilet paper at his most cynical word, is being flushed out to sea.

Meghan Dailey