San Francisco

Chris Finley, barium eye run (Tim Cook), 2014, mixed media, 15 × 16 × 13".

Chris Finley, barium eye run (Tim Cook), 2014, mixed media, 15 × 16 × 13".

Chris Finley

Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Chris Finley, barium eye run (Tim Cook), 2014, mixed media, 15 × 16 × 13".

Chris Finley is a restless maker, and the results of his unflagging labors—a new series of sculptures and paintings—packed the industrious artist’s first solo show in five years. During that interim he was voraciously collecting and upcycling the mass-produced flotsam of everyday life: an old pair of jeans, a no-slip bath mat, a broken window screen, a shoe, vinyl place mats, a deflated yoga ball . . . In sir seek hoe (animal) (all works 2014), two 1970s-era Jim Henson puppets—along with various bits and pieces—are nestled between seemingly haphazard disks made from mismatched puzzle pieces bound by a morass of wood glue. The conspicuous informality of Finley’s assemblages makes them appear to be the spills or accidents you’d find in a forgotten corner of a garage, but in fact they are carefully composed constructions whose materials often bear personal meaning for Finley himself. The only way to really make sense of these sculptural palimpsests was to ask a gallery attendant to pick them up, take them apart, and put them back together again. (Handling the objects oneself is ideal, but it is a privilege reserved for those who purchase them.) As with Finley’s earliest works, the viewing experience became one of playful kinetic discovery, here reinforced by a surrounding ring of geometric paintings whose supports are children’s board games.

Unlike the artist’s blissed-out, technophilic compositions of the 1990s, however, these recent sculptures boast a ludic aspect that belies more serious content. In the same way that Arman’s obsessive accumulations and portrait-robots now appear to us as a response to postwar consumer spectacle in France, Finley’s latest objects uncomfortably point to the angst of our own time. For instance, barium eye run (Tim Cook) is a seemingly lighthearted arrangement, topped with a glitter-filled magic wand and a plastic dish drainer that balance precariously above a dish brimming with hundreds of colorful hand-whittled pencil sculptures. When unstacked, however, the work reveals various snapshots of Tim Cook carrying one of Finley’s sculptures, each Photoshopped to appear as if the Apple CEO was lugging art around with him the way we cleave to our iPhones. A few layers down, a photograph of another Silicon Valley icon surfaces: Mark Zuckerberg with then-girlfriend Priscilla Chan. While these local tech moguls champion “the cloud,” Finley argues for the stubborn allure of the tactile. Many of the photographs—drawn over and defaced—recall the compulsive doodles of the distracted thinker before Facebook supplied new ways to momentarily alleviate tedium. Unpacking Finley’s sculptures feels a little like helping the artist clean up the attic, whether that cramped space is within a suburban home or a familiarly cluttered twenty-first-century mind.

Still, there was a lot of humor here, of the ilk that appeals to the thirteen-year-old inside you. Layered into one of the sculptures is a collage of listings clipped from the phone book—the sorts of unfortunate names that would have been tough to bear in middle school. Such juvenile jokes additionally point to something meaningful that pervades these works: our compressed experience of time. The stickiness of memory saturates such sculptures as yurt rookie riot (bowl), in which a weathered basketball net drapes over a sheaf of collages made from 1980s heavy-metal album covers—Finley’s own, recently rediscovered at his parents’ garage sale. Below these lies a stack of the artist’s expired membership cards, vestiges of identities carried and then discarded. This sculpture also includes two books in which the artist has mischievously circled every word—to stave off boredom or guilt over putting off other, perhaps grander, projects. The books are the post-rapture novel The Leftovers and Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently, which together provide a key to Finley’s wry sense of humor. The leftovers of American mass culture seem to be exactly what Finley is attracted to, and he has taken them in hand in his bid to play the skeptic to high-tech industry’s dematerialization of experience.

Elizabeth Mangini