Liz Magor, Closet (fur) (detail), 2018, polyester film, paper, cardboard, fur coats, stuffed animal, 30 × 33 1⁄4 × 51 3⁄4".

Liz Magor, Closet (fur) (detail), 2018, polyester film, paper, cardboard, fur coats, stuffed animal, 30 × 33 1⁄4 × 51 3⁄4".

Liz Magor

A gesture that recurs in Liz Magor’s recent work is the needy and desperate embrace—the full-bodied attachment of a subject to an object of comfort. In her 2017–18 show at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York, the hybrid stuffed animals of Oilmen’s Bonspiel (a kitty-faced monkey) and Pembina (a pig-headed teddy bear), both 2017, each hugged a heavy knit sweater around the waist. More recently, at Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, a creature the size of a Beanie Baby grasped the tails of a soft coat in Closet (fur), 2018, while silicone casts of larger plush beasties held onto garment bags in her “Delivery” series, 2018, which hung from the ceiling.

The clinginess felt precious, and it hovered, like the smell of nervous sweat, around the salvaged coats, shoes, textiles, and other items that make up Magor’s work. Even the sculptures that were not cuddled—such as Freestyle (Pink Grommet) and Toolshed (Wood Stain), both 2017, with their heavy wool textiles—suggested the potential for suffocation. I’d like to call them haunted, but that’s not quite right. Perhaps the heavy alterations of the well-loved “stuffies” (as Magor likes to say) detracted from the subtler signs of care and purpose these things engender—the very qualities that attract the artist to her materials in the first place. Her dismembering and fusion create a parallel but underwhelming sense of loss. Magor’s arrangements, which often read as altars, feel more constructed and less enigmatic than, say, Cathy Wilkes’s clusters of broken dishes, dolls, and baby things. Take Black Purse, 2018, a stack of boxed IKEA Lack tables that supports the titular object, which was cast in polymerized gypsum and was oozing some shimmering purple liquid from its zipper slit. This coagulated tongue intrigued, but the expanse of beige cardboard was too dry, stark, and new to carry out the full idea. What did it—to cite the furniture model—lack? The theme of resurrection was certainly somewhere in the galleries, between the rodent pelts (Pet Co., 2018) and the new encasements for old soles (Shoe World, 2018), but I wanted to see the recycled belongings break out of that endless loop.

Magor’s strategy for going beyond mawkishness was to “make things a bit strange . . . a bit to the left of themselves.” The work did reward close looking with a few sensory surprises—the nearly imperceptible slippage between original and replica handbag in Black Purse was striking—but the tweaks often rerouted the objects into confusing detours. When the artist talks about “trying to kill air” in her sculptures, she’s explaining how she identifies problematic areas in her molds of objects, and yet it did seem that, just before I entered the space, a suspended bubble had popped, leaving its soapy residue on some of the stacked Mylar boxes that contained many of Magor’s things, indicating that the fun was over. Indeed, Magor clearly enjoys her processes and is deeply invested in the textures, weights, and characters of her found and fabricated goods. These objects embody the artist’s definition of a gift as an offering between “two people who care about each other.” Magor cares about—and for—the materials of her work; she has pursued them and their attendant themes for years, testing different emotive channels. But some of the grit and rawness of her decade-old pieces, such as Stack of Trays and Squirrel (cake), both 2008, seems lacking in the newer works, especially now that the objects are packaged in tidy boxes. Perhaps the clenched paws should loosen their grip.