New York


Kenny Schachter Contemporary

What scares white America? Ghosts? Decrepit mansions? Or a hulking figure in a hoodie and gold chains peeling back a section of fence? In a show dedicated to the quintessential inner-city motif of chain link, Brooklyn-based artist Sol’Sax presented a video projection starring such a character, transformed into something truly ghastly by a zombie-gray ceramic mask. His midnight exploits—loitering on a street corner, creeping through a gap in a fence, cooking out in a vacant lot—layer fear of the occult over white paranoia to expose the absurdity of the latter. But Sol’Sax also lampoons his macho protagonist, who flips burgers with his hands and totes an obscenely configured arrangement of a black plastic baseball bat and two black basketballs. A shot of a gold chain being drawn through the links of a fence begins and ends the video, tying bling-bling to both the chains that ghosts rattle and those that shackled slaves.

This video and Sol’Sax’s eleven sculptures—which played deftly off the gallery’s Vito Acconci-designed steel-grille interior—worked up the froth of a nonexistent genre: the straight-to-video agitprop horror flick. Here, an infant’s crib painted black and enclosed inside a cage; there, the sporting-goods genitals from the video hanging on a fence panel, legible simultaneously as a face, as the grisly results of a castration, and as a nod to a famous Puppy-producing New York artist. All the artworks feature punning, multiline rap/poem titles (this last work’s refers to “a Basketball / In a Coons’ Sculpture”); double meanings proliferate; and racially charged dual codings extend throughout. In one of three photographs woven into chain-link gates, a pair of ceramic-headed men strike ambiguous poses near a caution-yellow sign that proclaims, “Welcome to the Bushwick Houses.” Are we being ushered in or warded off? By filtering his politics through Poltergeist, Sol’Sax both leavens his leadpipe message and reminds us that the horrors we delight in when they crawl cobwebbed from some Hollywood basement have distinct historical roots.

The clay faces of Sol’Sax’s figures take his representations into the realm of the grotesque; they also bring into focus his art’s mystic and diasporic yearnings. Sol’Sax produces the ceramic heads—“vessels for my ancestral spirits”—in concert with his Lukumi, aka Yoruba, religious beliefs. Whether rooted in this spiritualism or in puns visual and verbal, the potential for poetic transformation dances along Sol’Sax’s jagged political edges. In a work made up of fencing that rises two-thirds of the way up a field of black cloth, white cutouts form emotive eyes “behind” the chain link, while above it the forms appear as elementary birds shaped like lowercase m’s. Another sculpture is composed of the head of a bolt cutter, covered with Play-doh to resemble a severely beaked bird, then mounted on a plaque from Medgar Evers College. Evers’s murder galvanized Mississippi blacks; yet Sol’Sax gives this militant work his most lyrical title: In Flatbush, Some / Flightless Black Finches / Have Evolved Beaks / That Cut Chain Link Fences.

Domenick Ammirati