Los Angeles

Kori Newkirk

The Project

Los Angeles–based artist Kori Newkirk’s first show at this gallery’s West Coast venue greeted viewers with cast urethane dorsal fins installed on the floor—suggesting a school of man-eating sharks lay just below the surface but also pointing the way toward a freestanding “white cube” display space built inside the gallery’s own rough interior.

The classic gallery setup became both context and object as Newkirk toyed with connotation-laden objects of desire, high and low. Within this area, a world of “whiteness” was multiply incarnated. Fake snow, with its intertwined implications of whiteness, coolness, coziness, purity, artifice, specialness, and cheapness, covered the floor, while neon icicles dangling in a corner both activated the space and hinted it could use a thaw; the neon forms also evoked stalactites (hence, a cave) and teeth (hence, a zone of consumption). On one wall, a miniature white shark—a spray-painted toy?—attempted to devour a dinner-plate-size cast-plastic snowflake (biting off more than it could chew) while silhouettes of tiny sharks, incised into a wall and inlaid with pale blue encaustic, swarmed nearby. Together the small man-eaters formed snowflake shapes, as shark, snow, and the surface and structure of the (inner) gallery melded together. Another odd hybrid of the pure and dirty, the playful and cruel, was manifest in a pile of clear plastic spheres piled in a corner. The objects, which could have been Christmas ornaments, novelty gift packaging, or fish eggs, contained fake snowballs, which looked a little like the real thing and a little like their Hostess snack cousins. Closer inspection revealed that small stones or bits of broken glass had been shoved into the centers of some of these confections.

The artist, too, was on display, in the form of a photograph placed centrally in this very white room. Standing naked against a wintry landscape, the figure became a screen for the projection of identities—beast, bigfoot, manimal, specter, even, to use a word Newkirk’s work encourages one to use in all its dangerousness, spook. It’s this kind of insightfulness and incitefulness to open-ended and uncomfortable readings and associations that reveals Newkirk to be a shrewd negotiator of identity politics—a canny, latter-generation practitioner deeply interested in the problematics of allusion and capable of asking viewers to deal directly with questions of color as well as of transparency, opacity, sharpness, crystallization, violence, consumption, internalization, purity, shape, symbol, silhouette, and profile.

Christopher Miles