New York

Jason Dodge

Casey Kaplan Gallery

From Trisha Donnelly to Jonathan Monk to Simon Starling, Casey Kaplan Gallery represents a number of artists whose conceptually inflected artwork constructs or relies upon narrative scaffolding. So, too, does Jason Dodge’s slow-burn art. His sixth exhibition at this gallery was visually unprepossessing but upon reflection revealed engaging emotional and psychological complexities. Take, for example, in order of imagined altitude / an astronomer, a meteorologist, an ornithologist, a geologist, and a civil engineer, cut pockets from their trousers (all works 2009). One would be hard-pressed to know, without the title, what to make of the small pile of pieces of fabric resting on a pedestal. The idiosyncratic professional hierarchy suggested by the arrangement, funny on its own, is buttressed by knowledge of Above the Weather, 2007, an earlier work (not in this show) for which Dodge commissioned a Polish woman to knit a length of yarn equivalent to the distance from the surface of the earth to the height at which one is “above the weather.” Together, these sculptures manifest Dodge’s sky-gazing Romantic conflation of science and poetry, perhaps akin to that of the enthusiastic amateurs Richard Holmes describes in his appropriately titled recent book Age of Wonder (2008).

As evidenced in the rest of this exhibition, for Dodge, poetry most often takes precedence. That was the show’s chief strength and its primary liability. As flat-footed works such as light and glove or sleeping bag / air / a tenor recorder suggest, it can be exceedingly difficult to communicate to viewers the ineffable meanings that cling to demure arrangements of everyday objects. Your moveable and un-moveable parts / a broken furnace removed from house, and a box / that carried a new furnace demonstrates the limit of this methodology at its other extreme. The objects Dodge selected—a broken furnace and the box of its replacement—suggest rich connections to both a city’s arterial infrastructure systems and to the lives once and soon to be literally warmed by the furnace. It is his self-conscious intervention into this arrangement, two small pieces of pink paper on which the word VIOLINS is written, that comes off as affected and twee. A current (electric) / through / (A) tuning fork / and light achieves a better balance. No more than a lightbulb whose long electrical cord has been sliced open to allow the copper wiring to be soldered to the ends of a tuning fork, the sculpture prompts koanlike questions such as, What is the sound of light?

The strongest artwork in the exhibition alone proved the value of Dodge’s explorations at the edge of sentimentality. (Its descriptive title is too long to reproduce here.) To make the work, Dodge typed a woman’s full married name, divided into syllables, on narrow strips of paper that he affixed to the legs of homing pigeons, which returned to Berlin from Kraków, Poland. He did the same for the woman’s maiden name, though this time the pigeons carried the paper slips from western Ohio to New York. Her Germanic maiden name, Eleanor M. Edelmann, hints at a personal history that might likewise have included an emigration from Kraków or Berlin to the United States. A missing syllable in her maiden name—what happened to that pigeon?—underscores the extreme uncertainty of any such flight. These conceptually linked journeys can also be tied to the risky, speculative process of artmaking itself. By installing the framed slips of paper on opposing walls, Dodge summoned a poignant affective charge that even the most detached viewer would have difficulty not feeling.

Brian Sholis