New York

Dash Snow

Rivington Arms

Dash Snow’s reputation precedes him: He’s one of those artists whose name is invariably prefixed by the words “bad-boy” and who does little to live down the epithet—in fact, he courts it by making constant reference in his art to a prodigiously debauched lifestyle (his installation in this year’s Whitney Biennial, for example, featured a mirrored record edged with a line of cocaine). The twenty-five-year-old Snow’s recent exhibition at Rivington Arms provided the first chance since his solo debut at the gallery to—just maybe—examine his output in depth without the intrusion of undue hyperbole.

While last year’s “Moments Like This Never Last” concentrated on Snow’s Polaroid photographs—no-holds-barred studies in street life that saw him aligned with Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, and Ryan McGinley—“Silence Is the Only True Friend That Shall Never Betray You” concentrated on his collages, which are arguably less confrontational. But this exhibition, casually hung and unaccompanied by any written information, retained an air of calculated chaos despite an oddly genteel first impression resulting from the objects’ weathered surfaces and muted tones. Of the eighty-three(!) works named on the checklist (still a work-in-progress on my second visit), all but three were made this year, and most are cobbled together from grungy found materials. Cigarette butts feature prominently.

A typical Snow collage takes the form of a teetering stack of words and images clipped from newspapers and magazines pasted onto a sheet or sheets of yellowing paper torn from an old book. The images generally include figures (often masked, naked, or brandishing weapons), an allusion to one of the artist’s countercultural heroes (an unimpeachably credible list that counts Aleister Crowley, Genesis P-Orridge, Kenneth Anger, and Harry Smith among its members), and a scattering of punkish cut-up text (at times identifiable and cogent, at others not). The overall look suggests Hannah Höch by way of Linder Sterling, with a mild admixture of Brion Gysin and a perhaps too-liberal dose of “will-this-do?” willfulness.

Also on display were a number of Snow’s sculptures and assemblages. These extend the anti-aesthetic of his collages still further into the realm of the thrift store, the yard sale, the landfill: The media of Past, Present and Future, 2006, are listed as “Crystal ball, bell jar, Bible, security device, cigarette butts, magazine clipping.” It could almost be an assemblage by Dario Robleto stripped of both its defining anecdotal backstory and careful construction (Snow’s piece is a haphazard pile). Again, the work is also characterized by a curiously olde worlde patina that sits awkwardly with both the artist’s fondness for ’60s and ’70s references and his overtly contemporary métier and milieu. And for every object that’s potentially intriguing he seems compelled to throw in a gesture of self-conscious artlessness that betrays a fear of saying—or caring—too much.

Dominating the gallery’s back room was Untitled (Book Fort), 2006, a cuboid stack of old tomes topped by a grubby tentlike pyramid of white sheets. A random sample of the volume’s titles quickly reveals why Snow, who presents himself as a perpetual adolescent, might find them interesting— they include The Secret Life of a Satanist, Smut King, The Psychedelic Orgasm, and Limbo of the Lost. Shoved against the wall nearby are Help! The Paranoids Are After Me and Blow in My Ear and I’ll Follow You Anywhere (both 2006), two old turntables on which photographs stuck to vinyl discs bearing the titular phrases rotate continuously, generating a squeaking, fizzing sound track not inappropriate to the show as a whole: sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Michael Wilson