New York

Jessica Stockholder

A few years ago, Jessica Stockholder described herself in an interview as feeling like “a dinosaur” around her students, whom she characterized as generally more interested in ideas than in the visual per se. While this statement might seem to mark a too-strident divide between then and now when it comes to modes of production over the past twenty years, Stockholder’s self-assessment is certainly correct on this count: Her own work really has started to show its age. As the artist’s recent group exhibition at Mitchell-Innes & Nash revealed, she continues apace with a practice that stubbornly refuses updating. The works included here, while not entirely devoid of surprise, nonetheless bore the signature of Stockholder’s earliest sculptural experiments.

Which is to say, on the one hand, that the artist’s fondness for lumpen materials hasn’t faded. It is also to point out that her predilections have achieved enough acceptance over the last couple of decades that her familiar stockpiles have come to look almost old-fashioned. This portrayal of Stockholder’s most recent work as not quite current, it should be said, is meant less as critique and more as an article of curiosity. Indeed, the whiff of anachronism clinging to the eight discrete works assembled here delivered, counterintuitively, a breath of fresh air. In eschewing the ever-accelerating style cycle, the artist invariably called attention to it, with the effect that her roomful of sculptures exerted a peculiar aggression.

Peculiar because, in a sense, the work (all dated 2006) looked better behaved than ever. If there was ever a time when the artist’s aesthetic caused offense, it has passed. And while she continues to produce large-scale installations, the offerings here were unapologetically gallery-oriented and therefore quite self-contained. “Studio works,” as Stockholder calls them, these are pieces scaled for display in the home or museum with a minimum of fuss. They tend to be partially comprised of pieces of furniture, while usually addressing the wall simultaneously, thus bearing out the oft-repeated argument that Stockholder’s are sculptures that proudly display an umbilicus to painting.

The two most successful pieces in the show, both untitled, could almost be described as “dainty,” not a word with which the artist is typically associated. The first work was built with ingredients including Stockholder’s now requisite plastic Tupperware-type lids, a number of dismembered but nonetheless illuminated lamps, and a painted, hinged panel. The second sported a wall-mounted square of bamboo flooring boards, a stool, plastic bins painted with a swath of brown pigment, and a second plastic component whose surface was flouncily adorned with lengths of yellow-green tulle.

If these works were, for this viewer anyway, the most arresting, it was for the acute consideration paid to cliché-ridden materials. Weirdly affective in their cheery brutalism, they attended to the strange beauty of throwaway objects while also exuding a kind of metareflexivity about the fact that such an enterprise is no longer necessarily resistant to commoditization. Illuminating most works from within using rather feeble bulbs whose light seeped out from cut holes or achieved a weak glimmer in the shiny gallery floor, Stockholder made every sculpture into its own bric-a-brac boutique piece. If the artist’s work is in dialogue with a consumer culture ready to snatch up and then discard everything in its path, here Stockholder—without having to do a thing differently—perhaps acknowledged our current situation, in which nobody thinks twice before buying an artwork made of, say, a plastic laundry basket, a squirrel trap, and a little roof flashing.

Johanna Burton