New York

Yuji Agematsu, 01-01-2014 ~12-31-2014 (detail), 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Yuji Agematsu, 01-01-2014 ~12-31-2014 (detail), 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Yuji Agematsu

Real Fine Arts

Yuji Agematsu, 01-01-2014 ~12-31-2014 (detail), 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Ideas are “in the air,” one typically hears, and yet today many artists find them beneath their feet. Nowhere is this truer than in the practice of the New York artist Yuji Agematsu, whose work comprises an almost unimaginably minor roster of materials, from half-sucked candies to balls of hair, which the artist finds on his daily wanderings through the city. For his second exhibition at Real Fine Arts, Agematsu presented a calendar year’s worth of his tiny sculptures—365 of them, each a quasi-organic amalgam of refuse and schmutz—which have been potted in the cellophane used to wrap cigarette packs and organized on a series of double-sided shelves. While it was hard to distinguish January from June—or June from July, for that matter—or to know that the work, taken in total, bore an indexical relationship to 2014, the staggered spacing of the sculptures clearly communicated the logic of organized time, an interrelated yet distinct series of diversions and days.

It has become almost a commonplace for artists today to transform the exhibition checklist into something like an ersatz recipe list—we find Anicka Yi cooking up concoctions with recalled powdered milk, antidepressants, and the rubber dust of ground-up Tevas, or Josh Kline offering DayQuil infused with Dentyne Ice—but Agematsu distinguishes himself from many of his contemporaries by sourcing his materials from lowlier (at least physically) places. While most artists are ace consumers who buy things off shelves or order them on Amazon, Agematsu works in the tradition of the ragpicker, bending over a stretch of pavement to scavenge a little find. Like society’s most marginalized, he displays the kind of ingenuity often brought about by necessity: He is a bricoleur of the barely there. Though his sculptures may sound almost insignificant in description (many can be knocked over with a sneeze), they have an effect completely out of proportion with their actual size. In one, a little lollipop shoved in crushed blue candy looks like a monument à la Oldenburg; another combines an earbud and wilted leaves, suggesting a new fusion of technology and organic life. The final products look chemical, almost radioactive, commingling the remnants of toxic consumer culture with moss, lichen, hair, and dead insects. Tiny terraria, they generate worlds of their own.

Of course, all of this risks lapsing into preciousness, but Agematsu avoids this trap not only through the way in which he highlights the weirdly synthetic and abject qualities of his objets trouvés—there’s lots of electric-bright plastic and neon chewed gum—but also through the strategies of display he employs. While the artist previously pinned bits of detritus down to cork like butterflies in a natural-history museum, a needle through each wing, Agematsu’s display here called to mind a more psychopharmacological style of order. Indeed, the exhibition reminded me of the displays of pills that Damien Hirst has manufactured since the late 1990s, which present a typology of tablets in seemingly endless rows. Exhibiting medicine (or makeshift versions thereof) would seem to stress an artist’s interests in psychological effects held in potential; Agematsu’s art might be said to reveal a similar bent—though, in this instance, our various psychodramas are not cooked up at the lab but scavenged off the sidewalk and clinically fed back to us for our own delectation. The cigarette cellophane enclosing each work provides another angle from which to see it, bringing to mind ideas of compulsion and addiction, but also pleasure and introspection. These sculptures involontaires, as Brassaï might have called them, could be read as those small moments of freedom taken when one steps (or stepped) out for a smoke during work.

It is worth knowing, perhaps, that Agematsu has, for many years, worked as a caretaker at Donald Judd’s former residence and studio in SoHo. Though it might seem like a stretch to reach for lines of influence here, certain features do connect the artists, ranging from an interest in seriality to a care for color and materials. (Agematsu is, in fact, a superb colorist despite his predilection for the abject.) In seeking to move past the disciplines of painting and sculpture to a realm of “specific objects,” Judd planted his artwork in “actual space,” which lent itself to the movement of bodies in a strangely charged void. In turning from industrial production’s slick surfaces to its detritus, in studying cracks and fissures, Agematsu pushes such an investigation from the phenomenological into the realm of the psychological. His is another kind of Minimalism. It feels strange to be here.

Alex Kitnick