Washington, DC

Ivan Navarro and Courtney Smith

G Fine Art

Sculptors Ivan Navarro (who also works in video) and Courtney Smith reconfigure common items—lightbulbs, usually fluorescent, in Navarro’s case and vintage furniture in Smith’s—to yield subtly totemic, mildly anarchistic structures that gingerly probe the border between useful and useless, order and disorder. Their joint exhibition “Remake” furthered their inquisitions, playing with the cultural values we assign to objects and historical events and examining the consequences of reuse.

Smith’s manipulated vintage dressers, bureaus, and cabinets recall the works of Doris Salcedo as well as, in their quirky mechanical innovativeness, nineteenth-century campaign furniture. However, hers fit a broader tradition of reuse, one in which materials, deliberately or not, create new artistic and cultural markers (think spolia in Rome: architectural elements salvaged for things like Cosmati floors). In “Remake,” the artist employs a mathematical puzzle along with Cubist and Brutalist strategies to explore various methods of remaking and how their results affect our perceptions of the objects used. Tangram, 2008, is based on the Chinese dissection puzzle of the same name that consists of seven pieces of assorted shapes, called tans, which can be configured together to make figurative forms (animals, people, flowers). Instead of tiles, however, Smith uses furniture fragments, including drawers, which carry with them metaphoric value. Experiencing these works is both intriguing and disquieting—lost are the clutter and clothes, and their accompanying memories, the compartments once held. We are confronted with a set of abstracted cultural associations that require reinterpretation each time the seven pieces are arranged.

Two white lacquer pieces, Blank Verse (Armoire), 2006, and Blank Verse (Armchair), 2008, recall unsuccessful twentieth-century social experiments with architecture—artistic and intellectual achievements but failures in regard to their utopian promises. Smith appropriates a Cubist, Brutalist look—muscular and overdesigned—that defies functionality. The ample armoire contains one tiny storage space, and the armchair is none too comfortable.

The latter work faced Navarro’s video The Missing Monument for Washington, DC, 2008, another piece about a failure, this one political: Augusto Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship in Chile, a reign marked by torture, murder, and government-ordered disappearances. In this haunting video, Chile-born Navarro refers to folksinger and songwriter Victor Jara, killed in September 1973 in Chile Stadium by Pinochet’s forces. Two barefoot figures in an empty room are dressed in dark clothes with white bags over their heads, as if to be tortured. One is on all fours; the other, acoustic guitar in hand, stands on the back of the first reciting Jara’s poem “Estadio Chile” (Chile Stadium) in a tone quiet yet firm, resigned yet resolute. A single chord strummed on the guitar demarcates passages. Navarro extrapolates from the video’s human monument in Victor, 2008, a fluorescent-tube rendering of a crouched human figure. Large sheets of paper stacked on the figure’s “back” reproduce, on one side, a single image from the video and, on the other, Jara’s poem. Intriguingly, this immaculate sculpture enshrines history without sanitizing it.

In their sole collaboration in this show, Kitchen Sink, 2008, Smith and Navarro arrange scores of cabinet fragments of various heights, all low to the ground and placed around a “floor hole”—a lightbulb-lined wooden box, the floor and top of which are mirrors (the latter one-way) that together give the illusion of infinite space. The viewer is invited to tread on the work, to traverse a disconnected narrative of accumulated associations, only to arrive at an abyss.

Nord Wennerstrom