San Francisco

Chris Gentile

Gregory Lind Gallery

Chris Gentile’s work places him in dialogue with Amy Adler, James Casebere, Thomas Demand, and Erwin Wurm, who photograph handmade objects that rarely—if ever—leave the studio in 3-D form. Gentile also creates sculptures and installations exclusively for the camera, but while the aforementioned artists use the practice to explore cultural, psychological, or media-related issues, his images focus on processes of degradation and decay, which he presents in formal, and sometimes visceral, terms. The objects he depicts are abstract and self-consciously sculptural, yet flaunt their ephemeral nature in fixed C-print form.

Gathered under the title “Reincarnation Blues,” the New York–based artist’s nine photographs on view at the Gregory Lind Gallery were shot over the past five years and depict constructions made from cardboard, electrical tape, and condiments, materials that will fray, droop, and spoil over time. Sometimes, the actual size of the objects is difficult to parse. Dry Thirst of Honor, 2004, for example, looks convincingly like an absurdly tall woodpile seen from the side. Close inspection, though, reveals that the “logs” are actually small branches sliced into wedges. The pile, while seemingly enormous—and richly patterned—would be depleted quickly, as it offers a supply of timber that is in fact rather small.

A deceptive image of abundance recurs in the corporeal diptych Human Nature, 2009, which shows, in its left panel, a pool of crimson syrup oozing from beneath an extremely tall stack of maraschino cherries. The form calls to mind one of Anish Kapoor’s wax or pigment sculptures, but made by Tara Donovan, through the accumulation of a vast quantity of a quotidian consumer good. The actual amount, however, is less than one would think: In the image on the right, the fruit has been picked almost clean from the tepeelike wooden armature that, it turns out, supported the pile. A few errant cherries cling to the white sticks, resembling the tips of matches. Gentile’s forms, materials, and textures here evoke flesh and bone and play the organic against the fabricated—while visually toothsome, maraschinos are toxic, pickled in bleach and corn syrup and chemically dyed their bloody hue.

The dialectic of preservation and decay—manifested in the precariously stacked lumber, the pickled fruit, and Gentile’s allusion to a skeleton—is also present in A Chance of Overtime, 2007, an image of the artist’s nearly empty studio, tidily wrapped, Christo-like, in sheets of pink rosin paper. Affixing the swaths with masking tape, Gentile created large rectangles that are interrupted only by the windows, themselves also a grid. As if packed for shipment, the room seems to mark a moment of both closure and beginning. An easel and some shelving are the only recognizable nonarchitectural elements in the room; two wrapped cubes urge us to imagine their contents. Preservation is also expressed in the melancholic Safe, Faded Feelings, 2007, in which the same studio window is filled with models of miniature white lifeguard chairs; together, the handmade objects resemble the fleeting geometry of frost.

While that image might convey mortal possibilities of drowning or freezing, Gentile’s sense of experimentation and play is often palpable, especially in Saint John (Tide of Regret), 2007, a suite of six photographs depicting a huge mass of black electrical tape sliding down a wall and coalescing into a tidy boulderlike clump. The work brings to mind the movement of iron filings as they are pulled by a magnet, and evinces the artist’s fascination with the unique qualities of his humble materials. Forces of decay naturally apply to his constructions; at its best, Gentile’s work demonstrates that photography’s capacity to preserve is illusory.

Glen Helfand