New York

Jessica Stockholder

Gorney Bravin + Lee

There’s a lot to be said for the tacky, abject allure of thick paint on fake fur or plush pile carpet. Paint out of bounds almost always looks like a mistake, even when you know it isn’t. Since she began gaining attention for her distressed constructions in the mid-’80s, Jessica Stockholder’s sluggish, amateurish, temperamental interventions with paint have displaced the familiarity that clings to the everyday objects in her three-dimensional compositions and emphasized abstract values instead. With her crude swathes and blobs, she has consistently sabotaged surfaces and forced outlandish correspondences, to the point where things are mucked up past the point of retrieval; which, in turn, functions as an initializing ground in her work.

Early on, Stockholder’s freestanding assemblages and installation-size sprawls had the ability to surprise, even to arrest, the viewer. It wasn’t just that her sculptures were at once lyrical and shocking in a casual, trashed-out way, her constructions animated with a sensibility that was utterly negligent with respect to notions of permanency, or that her materials seemed to have accumulated by accident, spontaneously and effortlessly—the way stuff piles up in the hall closet. It was that no matter how they were deployed, the odd things she collected and made into art never gave up their marginality.

Raw, pathetic, exuberant—looking back, you realize all the more how critical those nuances were, for the recent work is complacent and, frankly, downright suburban in feeling. The new works reek of low-end domesticity—and no amount of goopy paint (by now a tired gesture) is going to change that. In this installation, the tyranny of mass-produced kitchenware and bright plastic storage bins was unfortunately only amplified by the livingroom area Stockholder created in the gallery with mismatched pieces of uninteresting, dirty furniture, all on an orange rug. She’d also curated an exhibition within the exhibition, which included the work of some thirty friends and colleagues. If Stockholder was collaborating with other artists in order to breathe a social dimension into her art, it didn’t work. Her own art, modestly scaled assemblages that either incorporate tables or give objects a tablelike function, each had its obligatory schmears of paint and was elaborately ornamented or transformed. Taken together they made up a virtual tsunami of cheap merchandise, reiterating the idea of a depressingly standardized domestic life filled with endless, needless, useless stuff, all of it in irritating colors and screaming mediocrity. Instead of the Stockholder who once knew how to play fast and loose with her scavenged goods, we discover an academic who, literally, bolts everything in place and forfeits the appearance of spontaneity and accident that once served her art so well.

There are occasional moments when Stockholder’s paint doesn’t settle into cliché and a quirky simplicity prevails. In a relatively small and insignificant untitled sculpture from 2003, she gives us her version of Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined teacup. Stockholder covers a supersize mug with uneven patches of a green furlike material and delivers a wide gash of thick orange paint to a portion of its rim. It shares a plank of wood with a bird’s nest drenched in resin. The ensemble rests upon a generic, upturned blue plastic bucket. The sculpture doesn’t make you think about kitchens, garages, tag sales, or miles of aisles at Wal-Mart because nothing much has been transformed: no legions of juice containers or faux-stained-glass butterfly lamps to tame into art; no anxiety to make a lot of junk look interesting. This little one is sort of odd, sort of beautiful, sort of funny, sort of sad—never definitively one thing or another but resolutely itself. With its deft singularity and easy understatement, it stands in stark contrast to the hysteria of overproduction that otherwise prevails.

Jan Avgikos