New York

Nick Mauss and Shelby Hughes/Christian Holstad

Daniel Reich Gallery

Daniel Reich made his reputation as a bright young thing with an idiosyncratic series of shows in his Chelsea apartment, and with this debut exhibition at his new gallery location, he kept their exuberantly cluttered sensibility alive in this more conventional space.

The first show was an inspired juxtaposition of work by Christian Holstad and recent Cooper Union graduates Nick Mauss and Shelby Hughes. Mauss and Hughes’s project “Magnetic Living” is a loose-knit cluster of found, gently manipulated, and patiently handcrafted objects and part-objects that hints at New Age mysticism, backwoods totemics, and the time-killing hobbies of prisoners and the elderly. Though twenty-two sculptures are noted on the checklist, the effect is of a total environment allowed to accumulate over an indeterminate period. Works fed into one another in a free flow of materials and moods that, at its best, suggests the introspective absorption of an outsider artist for whom audience reaction is irrelevant.

In the approximate center of the gallery stands Wist and Sea for Wika Wee (all works 2003), a boxlike shelter that looks like one of Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulators assembled by a team of interior decorators. The materials used—wood, fabric, ceramic tile, natural vine, steel, fox fur, eucalyptus, copper amulet—indicate the artists’ range of formal interests: from hard geometry to the informe, the functional to the decorative. The homespun shamanism—a domestication, for good or ill, of the mystical/alchemical inclinations of Beuys et al.—also evokes a spirit and aesthetic most often associated with the early ’70s, a notion reinforced by the likes of Infra-fra-fractal, a string of crystals hung across the front window. Mauss’s drawings, which layer reclining figures and scratchy abstract doodles over swirling marbled backdrops, make the link explicit.

“Magnetic Living” was full of surprises: Any large structure hid something smaller, more precious. So, in the corner behind Wist and Sea for Wika Wee, one discovered We Shared a Milky Tea and Then You Turned on Me. An accumulation of stones, beads, and milkweed, it suggests the components of a secret children’s game, a stash of ritual objects whose true symbolic power is known only to their collector. Mauss and Hughes exploit every nook and cranny of the gallery space; the windowsill supports the lines of fluorescent powdered pigment of Rough Nights, while Bulbs, a group of rounded forms of colored paper, hugs the ceiling like an exotic fungus. Even Hughes and Mauss’s ambient sound track emerges from within a cloth bundle. A haunting assemblage of rustles, chimes, and chants, it makes an atmospheric accompaniment to a playfully mysterious show.

Holstad’s 2002 debut with Reich was a tribute to “bubble boy” David Vetter, who was forced by his own faulty immune system to live out his days in germ-free isolation. This time Holstad presents the installation Fear Gives Courage Wings, a memorial to the spirit of disco-era rebellion that incorporates, among other things, cojoined roller skates, sequin-covered testicles, and a glitter-coated fist. Like “Magnetic Living” the work also comes with its own sound track—this time a looped voice singing “Guardian Angel / watching over me,” a nod to the vigilante group ubiquitous in an earlier, more crime-ridden New York. A series of plywood cutouts covered in vintage wallpaper form a decorative homage to the artist’s favorite iconoclasts (like Nina Simone), while a collage images scenes of all-male domestic bliss.

The political intent of Holstad’s work, which might otherwise seem gentle to a fault (Steve Lafreniere, introducing the artist in the January 2003 issue of this magazine, described it as “slyly evangelical”), is brought out by its proximity to the detached world of Mauss and Hughes. The cutouts in particular are also undeniably stylish. But it is the younger pair’s unforced approach to their materials that makes their vision, dreamy and organic, the more memorable.

Michael Wilson