New York

View of “Chris Bogia,” 2019. From left: Mr. Fussy, 2019; Left Leaner (Yellow), 2019; Big Bonsai, 2019; Pruning Hand, 2019.

View of “Chris Bogia,” 2019. From left: Mr. Fussy, 2019; Left Leaner (Yellow), 2019; Big Bonsai, 2019; Pruning Hand, 2019.

Chris Bogia

Living coral, a “life-affirming” orangey-pink, is the color of the year, according to Pantone. Emerald dominated 2013, turquoise reigned over 2010, and 2016’s homecoming queen was rose quartz (also known, notoriously, as millennial pink). And while Pantone might not have explicitly been on Chris Bogia’s mind when he produced the sculptures for his first solo show in New York, variations of the aforementioned hues make bold appearances in several of the works on view.

His sculptures portray decorative trees (rendered semiabstractly via crescents, cylinders, and other basic geometric forms), but the works also seem to resolutely encourage associations with all sorts of other knickknacks. The materials used to make them, including lacquered wood, grass-cloth wallpaper, and raffia, conjure bungalows and rec rooms, flea markets and Etsy. For me, the works brought to mind the Memphis Group, but also Katy Perry videos and my niece’s toys—the nice Scandinavian ones. Like high-end design objets, Bogia’s sculptures hint at ingenious functionality while sleekly declining to divulge their exact use. Familiar visual tropes abound: For instance, both Temple Cherry Blossom (all works 2019), and Left Kicker (Bright Green) feature smaller and smaller elements painted successively lighter tints of a single hue. (My mother’s set of electric hair rollers from the 1980s was arranged in the same exact order, ranging from big fuchsia barrels for jumbo curls to thin pale-pink cylinders for wispier ringlets.)

If these tree sculptures connect to decor through the ages, there’s also a lot to be said about how they serve as proxies for the human figure, especially when you think of the many heroes and antiheroes in classical mythologies who take on ultimate arboreal forms. In an interview, Bogia has mentioned his interest in the art historian David Getsy’s writings on queer abstraction. Getsy has underscored how figurative art often provokes a “rush” to taxonomize those being depicted. And because this sort of scrutiny can be an “agonistic daily experience,” as Getsy puts it, for queer—and, most especially, for trans—folk, abstraction becomes a powerful “means to resist the cultural marking of the human body.” In that context, it’s easy to start thinking about how Bogia’s bonsai (ornamental cultivars, usually bred, pruned, and grafted into preordained forms) might be a way to push back against the outright depiction of people, while still emblematizing pressures to outwardly conform.

Decor shifts briefly into tongue-in-cheek kitsch, in the form of a yarn painting depicting Mr. Fussy, the green, lozenge-shaped cartoon character from the illustrator Roger Hargreaves’s “Mr. Men” series of books for children—but this yarn version has male genitals added in. A self-portrait, maybe? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose so, considering the degree of care needed to make a yarn painting.

Meanwhile, things take a more ominous turn on the gallery floor, where a giant disembodied lacquered hand lies palm-up, stylized a little like the appendage in the United Way logo. It suggests that Bogia’s topiaries aren’t just metaphors for the corporeal, but instead hail from an imagined world surrounded, or haunted, by other species or beings. Three watercolors add to the mystery. At first glance they look like benign renderings of interiors. On closer examination, they reveal sinuous, menacing arms and hands, their fingers curled like fangs of rearing snakes as they reach toward various decor elements (including one orange bonsai, depicted as a centerpiece on a table). If a horror story emerges here, it seems to hinge on the sinister sentiments that lurk behind picture-perfect domestic spaces.