New York

Christian Holstad

Daniel Reich Gallery

An OPEN sign Scotch-taped to Daniel Reich Gallery’s front door was hardly an idle signifer. With all its low-rent connotations, its purpose was evidently to inform passersby that the gallery was taking customers (and to implicate the casual visitor as customer)—even if this intention was undermined by the blunter, contradictory statement implied by the mesh roll-down gate obscuring the gallery’s storefront window.

Insofar as the gate has always been there, it wasn’t part of the installation per se, though that’s not to say the gesture wasn’t intentional; in fact, the artist, Christian Holstad, had requested that it remain lowered throughout the duration of his exhibition. The gate presaged the “lattice” or “cage” motif—as well as a concern with the visual tropes characterizing the “downward” economy—that suffused the whole of “The World’s Gone Beautiful,” Holstad’s fifth solo show with the gallery. The evocative title is borrowed from Malvina Reynolds’s 1969 song of the same name, which opens: “The world’s gone beautiful because it’s about to die.” Everything, both in the song and in the show, turns on that ephemeral, ambiguous “gone.”

The work was split into two distinct camps: There were four “Portraits”—a series of elegantly cluttered collages on paper—and eight “soft sculptures” (shades of Claes Oldenburg) of shopping carts from different chain stores (all works 2009). Each of the “Portraits” depicts a battered steel-mesh trash can—one tipped over, another upside down—filled with various discarded things: “Broken umbrella, dildo, Chinese food and a candle burning at both ends” lists the parenthetical subtitle for Portrait #2. The cans are situated in front of a dense chain-link fence, which itself overlies playground iconography (a geodesic dome, a merry-go-round, a hopscotch course, a basketball hoop). A narrative of indoctrination emerges: “Perhaps it is the parental injunction to ‘put it back’ that impels us towards the economic independence described as adulthood,” the press release argues, flirting with Althusserian theories of subject formation. (That text’s lucubrations, by turns lucid and opaque, are among the show’s more convoluted pleasures.)

The droopy sculptures were plopped (or, better: “staged”) on, around, and underneath three stout, scrubby wooden plinths; their fussy-sounding materials (“vintage millinery tubing, vinyl, reflective fabric, lamé tubing”; sometimes also “ultrasuede”) allude to an antique queerness in stark contrast with the hard, sturdy, serviceable objects that the sculptures flatter. (I’ve perhaps never appreciated the reliable architecture of a shopping cart so much as when confronted by Holstad’s deflated quotations.) As with Holstad’s 2006 installation Leather Beach, shown in a dilapidated former deli in midtown Manhattan, the extent to which Holstad is diagnosing, critiquing, or even celebrating consumer pathos here remained unclear. After all, the exhibition’s title song is an act of bittersweet mourning for the way things have turned out.

Holstad’s fetishization of the discarded recalls Jack Pierson as much as Robert Rauschenberg; it is tinged less with nostalgia than with a deep affinity for the used and passé. (The former reflects a conservative sensibility; the latter, a minority one.) This was perhaps most emphatic in Consider Yourself a Guest, a dingy hand towel hanging in the back gallery embroidered with the word guest and besmirched with “dirt, blood, sweat, semen, tears.”

There’s also a whiff (just a whiff) of old-fashioned Marxism: Containers used for shopping (goods flush with potential use-value) are juxtaposed with containers used for trash (goods whose use-value has been expended). The shopping carts—pointedly, pathetically—are empty; the garbage cans, similarly, are full. Put that way, the show becomes an unequivocal record of our “recessional” eschatology, and intones another 1969 threnody: Is that all there is?

David Velasco