New York

Rachel Harrison

Unlike Rachel Harrison’s previous exhibitions, this one didn’t evade the fact that it was a showroom full of sculptures, autonomous things, standing there in plain view, whether openly embarrassed or glamorously opaque about their status as aesthetic commodities. Harrison’s best works seem to sculpturize an ambivalence about the job a work is meant to do: I show myself, you see me, value is in question, now what?

Two works used video, one, Gray or Roan Colt, shot at a swanky horse auction in Saratoga Springs, New York, the other, Hail to Reason, at a backwoods auction of scarcely desirable junk in the Catskills (all works 2004). By aligning her sculptures with the horses and the junk, Harrison reminds us that viewing art is also a kind of bidding or speculating. In the most concrete terms, they give form to the problem of having to show up and produce value in the art world, a situation something like a showroom, if not a slave auction.

Some of the ways a Harrison sculpture might deal with its own situation: barricading the room, turning its back, dressing in gaudy colors, having wheels, assuming a tense or shambling pose, or complicating its own real-time viewing by embodying the temporal structure of an attached photograph or video. Then there is the roughly person-size scale of so many Harrisons, which engenders a feeling of sizing up each work as just another body in the room. Meet Cindy, a puke-green assemblage of struts and wobbly planes crowned by a blonde wig. You want to call her “the blonde.” Is she a transvestite? Cindy hides behind a leaned section of bare sheetrock—her face, her own wall. Another blonde, Marilyn with Wall, is all face and broken wall: a framed, rephotographed portrait of Marilyn Monroe hung on a slanted stack of rough-edged sheetrock (gallery walls cut down by the artist on site). Playing on the seduction of veils and screens, this flat, white-on-white composition is a pileup of surfaces around a fresh void—the empty space produced by Harrison’s demolition.

Such works seem to approach sculpture as a question of personality and recognition, building themselves around a negotiation of exposing surfaces and sheltering partitions. Harrison also plays with the possibility of a sculpture working as a kiosk or shelf, opening a zone of indistinction between displaying itself and displaying things, such as a can of air freshener or a poster with cute kittens. Like the bodybuilding magazines jammed under the base of Silent Account, which literally lift and tilt the work, Harrison’s readymades work both as product placements and sculpturizing forces, asking us to think again about what makes a sculpture happen in this world.

Harrison’s new work, like certain awkward and entertaining people, gate-crashes the genre of sculpture but ends up being the life of the party anyway. If, like skittish horses walked out to the auction block, her sculptures seem reluctant to take up their places in this showroom, it is precisely their awkward sense of nonbelonging that makes them so engaging.

John Kelsey