New York

View of “The Wolfpack Show,” 2015. Photo: Adam Reich.

View of “The Wolfpack Show,” 2015. Photo: Adam Reich.

“The Wolfpack Show”

Deitch Projects

View of “The Wolfpack Show,” 2015. Photo: Adam Reich.

Across the more than forty years of his art-world career, Jeffrey Deitch has rarely been shy, and has always been canny, about liberally leavening the blue-chip with the offbeat. And the shows he’s mounted at his old Grand Street space since returning to New York following his stint running the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles—the first featuring the outré midcentury LA artist and occultist Marjorie Cameron, and now a second, devoted to the Angulo brothers, six charismatic young isolates whose years-long confinement in their Manhattan apartment was documented in Crystal Moselle’s affecting 2015 documentary, The Wolfpack—are no exception. Deitch’s “Wolfpack Show” was built around a selection of the props, costumes, and other movie paraphernalia that the Angulo brothers created to stave off the myriad suffocations inflicted on them by their domineering father, as well as a suite of photographs of the young men taken by Dan Martensen. Like Moselle’s film, the exhibition—a pop-up of sorts, only on view for ten days—was intended to make an argument for the inspiration to be found in impediment, and for the productive potential that might be salvaged from certain forms of desperation.

The Angulos—Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krsna, and Jagadisa—were homeschooled, along with their older sister, Visnu, by their mother in the apartment they all shared in a Lower East Side public-housing tower. With the exception of rare, strictly monitored family excursions, the megalomaniacal patriarch kept the children isolated from the wicked city he so disdained. As Moselle’s film shows, the boys’ interface with the larger world during their captivity consisted of watching literally thousands of movies on VHS and DVD, everything from classics and cult favorites to horror flicks and Hollywood blockbusters. But they were hardly passive viewers of these confected realities; what they saw galvanized them and became the basis for a kind of group project that made it possible for the brothers themselves to become the stars of the show. The young men—armed with scrupulously typed-out scripts and cassette-tape sound tracks; with tinfoil pistols, cardboard cellphones, and costumes fashioned from cereal boxes and yoga mats—turned the confines of their apartment into an ad hoc soundstage for the re-performance of their favorite films: The Silence of the Lambs, Reservoir Dogs, Goodfellas, The Dark Knight, No Country for Old Men.

It’s an amazing story, and one that makes debating the relative artistic merits of the individual artifacts on display seem a bit churlish. The most fully formed work here was certainly Mukunda’s debut film, Window Feel, 2015, the shooting of which is teased at the conclusion of Moselle’s documentary. It depicts its director as an observer of a series of tableaux through a stage-set window like the one from which he watched Delancey Street traffic for so many years. Other members of the pack, costumed and made up to portray various emotional states (anger, insanity, grief, shock), each take their turn on the other side until, at the film’s sweet, optimistic conclusion, a stranger appears—love, in the form of a young woman—inspiring Mukunda to break through the window on a quest to join her.

Despite being accompanied by Mukunda’s film and Martensen’s images, which build a picture of genuine fraternal affection and a good amount of hammily creative teenage energy, the objects were badly served by the gallery setting, which seemed to sap the humble things—various jury-rigged masks and props, a Halloween-themed wall, a pair of Batman costumes in the center of the room—of their meaning and magic. Moselle’s sensitive treatment of the Angulo brothers humanizes them and their enterprise by giving both context; cut loose in the valorizing weather of the white cube, however, what they made was reduced from the stuff of real, lived lives to an array of instrumentalized anthropological exotica. Maybe that’s why the single object I could find that eluded the tale the show was telling seemed the most affecting. A small thing in the middle of a vitrine full of props, it wasn’t part of a big production, but was rather a simple product of lives away from the lights, camera, and action, a gift from a child to his mother: HUMMING / BIRD BIRTHDAY PRESENT / FOR MOM / MADE IN 2008.

Jeffrey Kastner