View of “Kim Seob Boninsegni,” 2011.

View of “Kim Seob Boninsegni,” 2011.

Kim Seob Boninsegni

Hard Hat

View of “Kim Seob Boninsegni,” 2011.

“Where is this famous word which is said to be so important in present art?” So asks an upside-down figure in a 2007 drawing by Kim Seob Boninsegni. His buddy, in a Rastafarian knitted cap, breezily answers with stoner precision: “Hey we have not arrived man.” Displayed at Galerie Guy Bärtschi in Geneva the same year, this work, Strategy/Cartography, succinctly laid out the Swiss artist’s impish if anxious sensibility. At once rigorous and laconic, Boninsegni’s drawings, photographs, objects, and performances sample high art, popular culture, and myriad forms of DIY, mapping the network of connections among them. The result is an oeuvre using familiar elements in conceptually and poetically circumspect ways. “I wonder how Swiss West Coast art will look like in a couple of years?” Charlie Brown asks in an exhibition flyer Boninsegni made for a 2010 group show (at the Zurich gallery Rotwand) of artists from the French-speaking part of Switzerland next to Lake Geneva, a region often termed the nation’s “West Coast.” A salmon roe answers, cryptically, “Ask the sushi.”

Boninsegni’s most recent solo exhibition, his first in four years, was far less chatty, but the new works are no less eloquent for that. Five photographs from the series “Desert Islands” (all works 2011) depict a hand-drawn splotch of sand centered by a cartoonish palm tree against urban nightscapes flush with rosy, fluorescent Korean signage for karaoke bars. The artist layers the naive island illustrations—found via Google, then redrawn—on top of the karaoke imagery, also sourced on the Internet, then rephotographs the whole. The sketchy islands, all squiggled intimations of water and oval coconuts, sitting atop geometric grounds of blurry neon, might be read biographically (Boninsegni was born in Korea and raised in Switzerland), as well as art-historically as a palimpsest of image culture in the Internet age. Also evoked, though, are culture junkies’ “desert island” lists of necessary records and books. Here that venerated index becomes an unfamiliar forest of glowing advertisements scaffolding the night.

A series of plush, toylike objects also had a surreptitiously autobiographical tenor. Called “Infinite Jest,” 2011, the five bright forms—which at first glance resemble infantilized sea creatures—are candy-colored depictions of prostates. (David Foster Wallace would surely approve.) Boninsegni calls them “transitional objects for those who are about to become old.” Feeling middle age upon him, and annual prostate checks with it, the thirty-six-year-old artist made his alarm manifest in these wonderfully weird Dorian Gray–lite artifacts of the organ that, of course, stores and secretes seminal fluid. A third series, “Ghost and Splat,” 2011, strikes a similarly ambivalent masculine note: five ink drawings that attempt (and fail) to reproduce Mike Kelley’s Garbage Drawing #37, 1988, with its jokey wave-curl and beer cans.

Thus the exhibition’s title, “Prospective Ghosts and Some Ideas About Sampling,” was conjured. Here, as over the past decade, Boninsegni’s works revealed an admixture of West Coast aesthetic approaches, productions, distributions, and forms—that is to say both the Swiss West Coast, dominated by neo-geo, comic-strewn Geneva, where he lives and teaches, and the American West Coast, Angelenos like Kelley, Raymond Pettibon, and Dave Muller having clearly swayed the Swiss artist. The two regions, strangely, share a fascination with drawing as the visual language of youth culture, and a restive, underground spirit that warily circles the art market. A strikingly influential curator, teacher, and performer in Switzerland—the collaborative flag of Fluxus, via John Armleder, ripples not so faintly underneath Boninsegni’s practice—the artist evidenced at Hard Hat a singularity of work and personal vision. The emphasis on seriality suggested both an anxious “try, try again” sensibility and, paradoxically, a confident coming-of-age in formal and conceptual decision making. Contrary to his Rasta’s opinion, Boninsegni has most definitely arrived.

Quinn Latimer