Munich

Diamond Stingily, In the Middle but in the Corner of 176th Place (detail), 2019, trophies; four metal shelves, each 7' 2 5⁄8“ × 14' 9 1⁄8” × 2' 1 5⁄8".

Diamond Stingily, In the Middle but in the Corner of 176th Place (detail), 2019, trophies; four metal shelves, each 7' 2 5⁄8“ × 14' 9 1⁄8” × 2' 1 5⁄8".

Diamond Stingily

Kunstverein München

For Diamond Stingily’s first solo institutional exhibition in Europe—and the association’s first show under the direction of Maurin Dietrich—Kunstverein München offered visitors a mini survey of the Brooklyn-based artist’s recent works, providing a valuable introduction to Stingily’s incisive explorations of identity and social class in contemporary America. The exhibition opened, appropriately enough, with five sequentially numbered works titled Entryways (all works cited, 2019). Five battered wooden doors stood in a solemn row, held upright a few feet from the wall with metal poles. A used baseball bat leaned against each door. Although most were missing their knobs and locks, one featured a sturdy-looking length of lumber, a makeshift security device held in place with metal brackets. Stingily has explained that when she was a child her grandmother always kept a bat by the front door. Here, the bats served as a pointed reminder of the violence or the threat of violence that so many people face on a daily basis. To amplify the contested border between inside and outside, Stingily installed metal window bars of the sort often used on the exterior of ground-floor apartments, but here mounted inside the space’s high windows.

Filling the entirety of the Kunstverein’s central gallery, In the Middle but in the Corner of 176th Place comprises hundreds of athletic trophies displayed across four large banks of dark-brown metal library shelving. Most are the kind of standardized cups and statuettes familiar from youth- or amateur-sports leagues; a few are more impressive in scale but possess the same quotidian aesthetic. Stingily replaced the inscriptions that would normally identify the competition won with a series of statements ranging from the self-deprecating (DOING THE BEST I CAN) to the almost nihilistic (THROUGH ALL THE MADNESS THIS IS ALL YOU GONE GET). These phrases repeat, seemingly at random, throughout the installation, in a perpetual loop of physical-emotional exhaustion and oblique social commentary. WE DIDN’T HAVE THIS SPORT WHERE I WAS AT highlights the exclusionary nature of sports that are effectively open only to certain socioeconomic classes. (I would hazard a guess that fencing and polo were not on offer in the predominantly African American suburb of Country Club Hills, on the southern edge of Chicago, home to the 176th Place of the work’s title and at least one part of Stingily’s own childhood; despite its bucolic moniker, the neighborhood encompasses neither country clubs nor hills.)

What emerged was a visual-textual meditation on a culture consumed by the perpetual pursuit of “winning.” Stingily’s choice of athletics as a lens through which to examine such issues is simultaneously generic and steeped in personal experience. Two of her brothers play in the NFL, yet despite their obvious success nowhere does the work propose what victory might look or feel like. Instead, the piece’s immense scale and almost numbing repetitiveness evoked the countless young men (and women) who did not make the cut. When the same work was shown earlier this year at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, the trophies filled an enormous L-shaped unit of particleboard shelves, like an overdeveloped version of a suburban home-trophy display. In Munich, Stingily’s substitution of metal library shelving for particleboard and her breaking up of the single bookcase into four freestanding units exchanged the aesthetics of the rec room for those of the archive.

At a moment when the art world is awash in work about identity, one thing that distinguishes Stingily is the degree to which her recourse to personal history opens her work up to broader audiences. For the viewers of this exhibition, it matters that she grew up in a family of athletes. It matters that her grandmother kept a bat by the front door. It matters that she and her friends wove double-Dutch skipping ropes out of discarded phone cables. Not because her experiences are extraordinary, which in some ways they undoubtedly are, but because, as she has noted, “childhood influences everybody. . . . We were all kids at some point.”