Greenwich

Dash Snow, A Means to an End, 2002, mixed media, 37 × 18 1/2 × 20 1/4".

Dash Snow, A Means to an End, 2002, mixed media, 37 × 18 1/2 × 20 1/4".

Dash Snow

The Brant Foundation Art Study Center

Dash Snow, A Means to an End, 2002, mixed media, 37 × 18 1/2 × 20 1/4".

“Confusing signals, the impurity of the signal, gives you verisimilitude,” said Donald Barthelme of juxtaposition in his fiction, which he thought of as collage. “As when you attend a funeral and notice, against your will, that it’s being poorly done.” None of Dash Snow’s art in “Freeze Means Run” confuses or confounds. The signals are clearly drawn: angry or tender, political or familial, appropriated or documented. Snow’s work from 2000–2009—his teenage polaroids are being considered with his “mature” work in multiple mediums—falls squarely on an axis familiar to anyone who’s been a nihilistic teen with a preened-up death drive: portraits of us (our friends, our drugs, our material accoutrements) versus anti-propaganda effigies of them, the infrastructure that threatens us (the cops, our drugs, the president).

The show’s signal—call it a pulse, or an allegory—is the hagiography Dash Snow always wore like a halo, shoring up his cult of personality with works self-reflexively preoccupied with his persona, people, and paranoia. It’s not a surprise that the Brant Foundation Art Study Center is holding this retrospective for the beloved bacchant. To my mind, the exhibition functions as a properly done funeral for the twenty-seven-year-old artist. I would in particular like to know who was responsible for the amusing, practically quaint, hedge in the artist’s statement to keep the, er, congregation reverent: “At its core, Snow’s work resists judgment.”

My judgment is largely that this mawkish instruction is all too appropriate a voice-over for his collages, which are intellectually reductive and largely disinterested, compositionally, in tipping any elements out of their original context. In one of his early collages, Fuck the Police, 2005, he came on forty-five headlines of police brutality, and framed each one individually. I did like the piece for being the sole example of a work that emphasized scale in the show. (It’s displayed for effect on a single wall, from floor to ceiling.)

Snow’s preference for delicate and dated materials oftentimes saves his collages from their heavy-handed rhetoric, gravitating toward the limited color palette reserved for the hallways of municipal buildings: faded newsprint, sepia-tone pages from books, found journals, and cardboard. (A palette that tends to get washed out against the blond wood floors of the Brant Foundation.) In Nobody Ever Did What We Did, 2006–2007, newsprint spells out its title vertically against blank, aged pages of a book. A brown grocery bag squats at the bottom of the composition, displaying an array of Americana from the 1970s: gun, flag, bottle of Hennessy. Snow was nostalgic for nostalgia, which, morbidity aside, is a posthumous boon for his work.

The thematic scope of Snow’s work is quite narrow, perhaps because the first art he made was inadvertent social practice. A Means to an End, 2002, a coffee table with peeling paint and a hollowed-out belly, is filled with the detritus of a downtown disaster: a plethora of prescription-pill bottles prescribed to different people (one seeking camouflage in a pair of burnt-orange, lacy panties), sunglasses, lighters, a cassette tape. More likely it’s because he was a drug addict, with a fetish—and a flair—for predicting and tempting his own ruin. Snow’s mixed-media assemblages and Super 8 footage function seamlessly as shrines (particularly the bell jar Secret Conception, 2006–2007, and his last known artwork, a grainy, eery ode to his partner and daughter walking up a hill alone, Sisyphus, Sissy Fuss, Silly Puss, 2009); the titles of his collages as portents or death wishes (like Untitled [“Tell Them I’ll See Them on the Other Side”], 2006–2007); and his often poignant, voyeuristically satisfying Polaroids (150 of 9,000 photographs) as an index of how much time he spent partying in the present. And perhaps that’s what’s sad about this show, but in no way confusing—that now the signals all point in the same direction, and cannot be misinterpreted. We can’t slip into the verisimilitude of these lives; we know he’s going to die.

Kaitlin Phillips