New York

Sarah Braman

Museum 52

Museum 52’s boast that Sarah Braman “appears to work without inhibition, second-guessing, or self-consciousness” is a dangerous one, even for sculptures as seemingly thrown together as those on display in her recent exhibition at this newish Lower East Side space. Yes, Braman’s modified found-object assemblages seem to flaunt a willful disregard for finish, but take a few steps back and it isn’t hard to discern conventional formalist concerns nestled amid the grunge.

The centerpiece in Museum 52’s upper gallery (the larger of two levels; local veterans will remember the space as the former home of Participant, Inc.) was Sleeping Out Summer Night (all works 2008), a hulking arrangement of workshop scraps placed around a salvaged truck roof. Propped up with exquisite awkwardness on rough-hewn sheets of plywood and Plexiglas, the vehicle part looms like a giant red hand poised to descend upon the unwary viewer. A crusty cassette player is fused to one side, seemingly a studio accessory left behind like a scalpel accidentally sewed up inside the body of a surgical patient. Some souvenir stickers (LONG LAKE; KNOX TRAIL RIDERS) remain on the rear window of the truck, forlorn reminders of some storied road trip, while gestural lines of spray paint and clusters of scratches also conspire to give the impression of a journey memorialized.

Small fry and Love Song (soft rock) are similarly unwieldy (just try identifying a center of gravity in the latter), and have similar ingredients (found furniture, spray paint). They also both suggest temporary stockpiles, drawn from an arm’s-length radius, or improvised shelters. Three-dimensional doodles, they hint at both functionality and the decorative. Color is found and combined, or actually applied, in deceptively bold strokes (like the red-to-blue fade on a sheet of chipboard in Love Song). But far from looking unselfconscious, the sculptures can wind up looking embarrassingly artful, like exhortations to wonder at a quasi-mystical talent for conjuring sudden beauty out of chaos.

Downstairs, TV in bed, another snappily titled found-furniture set-up, faced off against the show’s sole two-dimensional work, the mixed-media photomural Molly’s House. In the latter, an off-kilter rectangle of wood-effect linoleum daubed with brightly colored paint has been adhered to the center of an inverted view of a verdant garden, as seen through what looks like a pair of wood-framed patio doors. The effect is pleasantly disorienting on both a visual and an intellectual level, and its references less transparent (Gerhard Richter’s painted-over photographs, perhaps?) than those—from Robert Rauschenberg to Gedi Sibony—manifest elsewhere in the exhibition.

Braman walks a fine line indeed. She often tests the viewer’s patience, rubbing her de-skilled credentials in our faces. If we think of the work as storytelling, it does a halfway decent job—but no more than that. And when unsuccessful, her attempt at a light touch can feel thoroughly heavy-handed. Yet something still lingers when the irritation fades, an instinct to return to the scene of the crime (and these spreads and towers of foam slabs, laminated shelves, and peeling chrome table legs do bring such trashed-and-abandoned sites to mind), to look again.

Michael Wilson