New York

Nathan Carter

Nathan Carter’s bright, bustling “ALL CITY,” his third solo exhibition at Casey Kaplan Gallery, radiated a joy in formal experimentation that, in its childlike exuberance, paralleled the specifically boyish cast of its familiar thematic preoccupations. Carter World—not unlike the real world—subsists in a cacophony of amateur and pirate radio signals, intersecting vehicular trajectories, multilayered route maps, jargons, codes, and ciphers. In the artist’s last show at the gallery, in 2004, this world was imaged as looping wall reliefs of cheerfully painted wood that resemble elaborate homemade board games. A couple of works along the same lines were on show here, but the inclusion of a flotilla of mobiles, drawings, collages, and photographs made “ALL CITY” feel like the start of something new.

Persisting with his use of extended titles that at once clarify and obfuscate—one example, THE CAUTION SIGNALS ON THE GROUND CONTROL ARC DON’T MAKE SENSE AND IT’S A MONKEY’S TEA PARTY UP HERE WITH EVERYTHING GOING ON, would be an apt name for the whole show—Carter here also added his own bite-size takes on a few works to the press release. “A loosely affiliated menacing armada of eighteen black and blue dirigibles covered with threatening insignia flying through bad weather in an aggressive formation trying to find a place to land. They’re hot under the collar, low on patience, behaving erratically, and looking for trouble,” is a typical entry, effectively capturing Carter’s verbal wit and his predilection for eccentric narratives spiced with military derring-do.

The latter description applies to a thirteen-part sculpture in Styrofoam, resin, acrylic paint, and wood that represents the airships in question as rough-cut scale models suspended from the ceiling in a meandering formation. Emblazoned with stenciled skulls, checks, and lightning bolts, the swarm of miniature vessels has the precarious charm of a slightly overambitious school project but is shadowed by an unsettling edge of incipient violence. SINGLE EVIL (all works 2006) is similar—an elongated form resembling the fuselage of a plane that was hung above the front desk like a hovering vulture.

Arguably, the show’s centerpiece was BLUE AND CREAM TRAVELING LANGUAGE MACHINE, a large freestanding construction that, along with the likes of the wall relief SAVOIRE FAIRE IS EVERYWHERE, seemed convincing evidence that Carter is inspired fairly directly by Joan Miró, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, and Yves Tanguy. A riot of fins, coils, platforms, and spindly, antennae-like protrusions—two large fans of which are tipped with the letters of the alphabet and the numbers zero to nine (imagine an exploded typewriter)—the work has an insectlike appearance that irresistibly recalls early-twentieth-century biomorphic abstraction, and an intense cerulean color scheme that makes good use of some leftover Yves Klein blue. Fortunately, far from being merely a winking homage, it is an enormously entertaining
work in itself.

While TRAVELING LANGUAGE MACHINE and other large three-dimensional works such as GREEN CONSTELLATION R.I.P. RAINBOW WARRIOR IN DAVY JONES LOCKER may have grabbed the most attention here, two large color photographs depicting scattered collections of what might be called contextual material were canny lower-key inclusions. The objects pictured in THE GET SET UP FOR METROPOLITAN MANEUVERS AND TURBULENCE include safety pins, a “TUBE WORKERS AGAINST THE WAR” badge, a pound coin, a guitar pick, a pen-knife, and—presumably in homage to Le Tigre—a MetroCard swathed in a piece of cardboard with "MY MY METROCARD” scrawled across it. The rambunctious, ramshackle energy of the titular song finds a visual equivalent in Carter’s planes, trains, automobiles, gizmos, circuits, clusters.

Michael Wilson