New York

View of “Harry Dodge,” 2019. Photo: Jackie Furtado.

View of “Harry Dodge,” 2019. Photo: Jackie Furtado.

Harry Dodge

Callicoon Fine Arts

Poised in a sweet spot between ugly and beautiful, kind of dumb and rather brilliant, Harry Dodge’s dense, idea-rich show at Callicoon Fine Arts proposed incongruity and indeterminacy as a tonic for worn-out subjectivities. “User” was Dodge’s first exhibition with the gallery and included a range of formats typically deployed by the artist: sculptural bricolage for the tabletop or floor; lo-fi video in the service of hi-fi philosophical queries; and works on paper, especially his Raymond Pettibon in the Land of Ooo–style drawings, which often contain wry, heady commentary by sentient inanimate objects. The sculptures—casual-seeming and often homely accumulations of modified infrastructural flotsam, such as pipes, plywood, and bits of hardware, set into unwieldy bouquets that suggest a kind of junkyard ikebana—were touched by a certain élan vital. Dodge has said that he wants his awkward conjoinings to generate “ecstatic contamination,” not to resolve the disharmonies between relative things, but instead to ramify them. His works are designed to hold ideas of individuality and multiplicity in tension and to create spaces of dynamic slippage between the whole and its parts.

Dodge is an avowed materialist, as well as a nimble thinker and an articulate spokesman for his project, and the show illustrated the relationship between the artist’s refined language and his consciously unrefined formal vocabulary. His conceptual framings suffuse every aspect of his program, no matter how bare or blunt its instantiations in meatspace. In some cases, they are written into the bodies of the works themselves, as in the droll captions for drawings such as Mental Field/All Sides, 2012, which features a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup whose perspective EMBRACES EVERY OBJECT AND ALL SIDES OF OF EVERY OBJECT, or Black Hole, 2018, in which an ink bottle dreams of extraterrestrial companionship. They’re built into the dialogue for the digital animation Late Heavy Bombardment, 2019, where a plummy-voiced alien delivers a lecture on the uses of violence to a crowd of damaged creatures who would seem to function as avatars for Dodge himself. And they also govern the reception of the sculptures, two groups of which were at the center of the show: a half-dozen examples from the artist’s series “Works of Love,” 2017–, glyph-like pieces that typically involve one or two volumetric objects mounted on one or more tube arms; and a quartet of larger sculptures from roughly the same period that complemented and extended their smaller companions’ formal and conceptual concerns.

The room was fronted by one of the two largest pieces on view, I am a Strange Loop, 2017, an ungainly lacquered magenta wodge with a section of thin, coiling pipe on its haunches that gave it the malevolent carriage of a threatened scorpion. Its peer in scale, Black Transparency (The Cloud Polis draws revenue from the cognitive capital of its Users), 2017, was even more kitchen sink in facture: a jumble of pipework growing out of a little ziggurat of black plates that culminates in a bucket full of black resin, caught mid-spill—a pitch drop experiment that has permanently flatlined. Meanwhile, the selections from “Works of Love” came in two contending varieties that functioned as object lessons for the project’s larger dialectic, with some works unapologetically showing their joints and seams, and others—monochromatic cast-bronze versions of their original heterogeneous selves—displaying the possibility of a homogeneous whole.

In a recent interview, Dodge invoked Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s essay “The Intertwining—The Chiasm” (1964) and the philosopher’s consideration of what the artist describes as “the flesh of the world . . . this charged space, this mucky tension (love?) between organisms.” “User” took as its subject this mucky tension and built from it a brand of speculative, sensualist realism. The show worked to materialize the latent energy Dodge sees suffusing the stuff of the world and invited the viewer to consider the dissonant encounter, in the words of the artist, as the “lusty” engine that drives “the buzz of always fresh relation.”