New York

Rachel Harrison

This February, a resident of President Street in Brooklyn received a number of announcements for the same exhibition. The interior of the mailer—folded and sent sans envelope—offers a close-up detail of a densely textured surface swathed in patches of bright green, red, blue, and purple paint; a fake apple is tucked into its irregular contours. One exterior side of the announcement provides the details of Rachel Harrison’s fifth solo show at Greene Naftali and a blank space where address labels and stamps are affixed. But the other side bears competing information.

Reproduced there at actual size, the “note” side of an old postcard carries a succinct but strangely moving scrawled message (“Dear Lucy,” it reads, “Wish you and Mama were with me. Best regards, Skippy”), caption information for an image we cannot see (Smith Point Bridge on Long Island), a canceled four-cent stamp (Abe Lincoln’s visage hatched through with postal marks), and the aforementioned Brooklyn address. And for all its obvious evidence to the contrary, this picture of a postcard, with its out-of-date, insufficient, and already canceled postage, often worked—so well, in fact, that the current resident of the President Street address contacted Harrison’s gallery to express her concern about the people clearly not receiving their invites.

This (true) story of unintended rerouting is noteworthy for its revelation of Harrison’s proclivities for subtly upending expectations and, perhaps more important, for disallowing smooth operations. The artist’s recent exhibition, “If I Did It” (its title taken from O. J. Simpson’s ill-fated memoir), comprises ten sculptures and a series of fifty-seven photographs. All named after famous men, the sculptures traffic in visual surprise and ideological-material accumulation while calling on a variety of tragicomic cultural references. Claude Levi-Strauss, 2007, a pair of extravagantly colorful pedestal-height obelisks upon which perch a taxidermied hen and rooster, acted as a gate through which viewers passed into the gallery. Here, one circumnavigated pieces including Pasquale Paoli, 2007 (swathed in a felt blanket), Johnny Depp, 2007 (an ersatz form painted gold and purple and adorned with a gold hoop earring), and Al Gore, 2007 (a thick, irregular, vertical form sporting a thermostat and painted in what can only be called a “warm” palette).

Alexander the Great and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, both 2007, are, appropriately enough, Janus incarnates. The first, a smooth, young, unsexed, caped mannequin standing astride a brightly painted form and holding a NASCAR wastebasket, wears on the back of its head another face, this a sunglasses-sporting Abe Lincoln mask. The second, a bespectacled female figure in purple shorts and baggy T-shirt, greeted visitors with a beckoning plastic hand, her “other side” revealing a saggily grinning Dick Cheney visage.

Harrison’s attention to what she has called “articulated surfaces” was everywhere evident, from the pearlescent undulations of John Locke, 2007, whose contours (courting Minimalist cool, then refusing it entirely) almost demanded to be touched, to the photographs making up Voyage of the Beagle, 2007. Snaking along the gallery walls, so many images of objects endowed with animistic charge (a sculpture of Gertrude Stein, five-thousand-year-old Corsican menhirs, a stuffed porcupine, a black Barbie, a drag-queen wig mannequin, a plaster Janus figure, a faded image of Kevin Bacon) offered a kind of affective procession, each image reduced to the next and yet, magically, changed—expanded, complicated, undone—through such overt morphological comparison. Disabling cohesive, easily consumed narratives, punch lines, or genealogies, Harrison’s “If I Did It” marks such responses “Return to Sender.”

Johanna Burton