Mexico City

View of “Emily Sundblad,” 2014. From left: Rugido del Leopardo de Amur (Roar of the Amur Leopard), 2014; Vestido para mi Boda/Funeral (Dress for My Wedding/Funeral), 2014.

View of “Emily Sundblad,” 2014. From left: Rugido del Leopardo de Amur (Roar of the Amur Leopard), 2014; Vestido para mi Boda/Funeral (Dress for My Wedding/Funeral), 2014.

Emily Sundblad

House of Gaga | Mexico City

View of “Emily Sundblad,” 2014. From left: Rugido del Leopardo de Amur (Roar of the Amur Leopard), 2014; Vestido para mi Boda/Funeral (Dress for My Wedding/Funeral), 2014.

A plastic-wrapped rib-eye steak lay in the center of House of Gaga’s tile floor. Surrounding it were fifteen small illustrations hung on the gallery’s walls depicting captive beasts—big cats, apes, snakes, and so on—that artist (and cofounder of New York’s Reena Spaulings Fine Art) Emily Sundblad sketched from life on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Zoo. The drawings, each rendered in Yves Saint Laurent eyeliner on paper and mounted on leather, pleather, or mat board, were all protectively framed; a few were adorned with a piece of lace, a double reference to femininity—and animal netting.

Collectively, these trappings underscored the themes of domestication—or, more precisely, the allure and possible pitfalls of bourgeois domesticity—that ran through “Black Is the New Orange,” Sundblad’s second solo show at the gallery. Furthering this conceit, a white gown, Vestido para mi Boda/Funeral (Dress for My Wedding/Funeral) (all works 2014) intersected this menagerie. And in another room, Sundblad had installed Vestido’s mate, a gossamerveil with somber black detailing titled A pesar de toda tu rabia sigues siendo sólo una rata en una jaula (Despite All Your Rage You Are Still Just a Rat in a Cage). (Both garments had been designed by Proenza Schouler for the artist on the occasion of this show.) Taken together, the elements on view conjoined matrimony with the zoo via the one force—death—that underpins both, each institution having been developed to promote the continuation of life, or rather, to evade death’s totalizing oblivion. And yet it is death, not marriage, that ultimately frees. Indeed, the difference between captor and captive is not always clear. It was, in any case, a matter central to Sundblad’s show; or, as the artist deadpanned with the hunk of flesh, just what or who is for dinner may take some effort to discern.

Though this effect wasn’t immediately apparent, a peephole through the left gallery wall extended the psychological space of the show, offering a look into a private back room where the gallerist often has his meals. Meanwhile, in the main gallery (in the annex space containing the veil), a place setting for one awaited the viewer: a TV-dinner-style arrangement balanced on a step stool. With a framed watercolor of a cooked lobster as a base, the assemblage featured a glass of wine and cutlery alongside other odds and ends. Included in this display and deposited throughout the gallery were USB sticks attached to various kinds of hardware (metal clips, carabiners, and jewelry, among other things). Ostensibly, the jump drives held tracks of Old English folk songs performed by Sundblad, recordings the artist made this past fall and winter with musician Matt Sweeney on guitar. Originally, Sundblad intended this music to be broadcast throughout the gallery for the duration of the show. However, a thief pocketed the iPod from which the songs were played, and the artist shrewdly elected not to restore the music. To hear these trapped voices, one had to first buy the art, then test the hardware using one’s own equipment. With this gesture, Sundblad foiled the typical artist-position, evading cheap exposure with a pay-to-listen scheme

One might argue that “Black Is the New Orange”—whose title not only appropriates a slavish fashion-marketing cliché but also plays on the name of the bingeable Netflix drama about incarcerated women—did not present a unified conclusion among its numerous extended metaphors and analogies. However, this ostensible failure too might be taken as a conceptual ruse. While the show hinted at questions of equality and power, it stopped short of universalizing relations through an “A is to B as C is to X” kind of logic—the type of demonstrative, easy didactics that tend only to tame and inhibit art and its audiences. And this is something that Sundblad, with her offerings of meat and her assumed position as muse, clearly does not aim to do.

Adam Kleinman