New York

Quay Quinn Wolf, Fear of Softness (No. 1) (detail), 2020, mixed media, 43 1⁄2 × 22 × 22".

Quay Quinn Wolf, Fear of Softness (No. 1) (detail), 2020, mixed media, 43 1⁄2 × 22 × 22".

Quay Quinn Wolf

Jack Barrett

Like a tastefully styled crime scene, Quay Quinn Wolf’s show at Jack Barrett greeted viewers with bits of twisted metal dressed in scraps of fur and set on a floor freshly painted in lavender, a vaguely sickly tang hanging in the air above them. As is characteristic of Wolf’s work, the exhibition was a strategically coordinated series of sculptural scenarios composed from poetically repurposed found materials. The artist has often juxtaposed “soft” domestic objects—such as articles of clothing and other textiles, as well as flowers and plant pigments—with infrastructural flotsam, including latex tubing, steel pipes, and blankly utilitarian stanchions in the form of racks or canes. These unexpected material marriages propose an uneasy entente between the slack world of the corporeal and the more rigid universe of thinghood. But the conceptual shape of Wolf’s enterprise here emerged from one particular event that sharpened his already heightened sense of the presence (and perils) of bodies, especially queer ones: A driver purposely hit the artist and his partner as they crossed a Brooklyn street on a June night in 2018. This hate crime left the two men with only cuts and bruises, but its psychic toll was significant. Wolf’s project here was an attempt to process the deeper harm inflicted by the driver, who laughed as he sped away. Sorrowful and vengeful in equal measure, the show flirted at times with a too-blunt literality but ultimately found its way to a quietly bracing sort of melancholic defiance.

The exhibition was built around a spartan clutch of nine works—organized as a colloquy of ambivalences between firm and pliable, light and dark, loose and structured—that coalesced into an affecting artifactual meditation on manifestations of identity and difference. Several of the works engaged with the crime head-on. And though the ominous eroticism of J. G. Ballard is never far away when cars and bodies are put into violent dialogue, the predominant energies of Wolf’s forms—Connected (all works 2020), for example, in which an automobile door mechanism was yoked to a pair of cut lilies via limp rubber tubes, or Unclean (No. 1) and Unclean (No. 2), with their twisted conjoinings of Toyota fender liners and black rabbit fur—were more elegiac than libidinal, less in prurient thrall to the cocktail of sex and power that the dystopian writer detected in the wreckage of encounters between metal and flesh.

Distinctions between exteriority and interiority, both physical and emotional, were a crucial aspect of the show. Hidden Desires, a protruding steel pole sheathed in a phallic hood of that same dark fur, approached such questions with a blunt physicality, while Tensions—a pair of diffusers filled with water mixed with essential oils (one tobacco, the other rose)—was more oblique. One might not be fully persuaded that these supposedly echt “masculine and feminine aromas,” per the show’s press release, are as strictly gendered as the artist seems to believe. Yet, as olfactory traces of dead botanicals that enter and become one with our own bodies, the atmospheric interpolations did raise questions about the integrity of physical boundaries, and about the inlets and outlets that breach them.

Wolf’s pairings of garments and other kinds of coverings with unexpected forms and inscriptions similarly engage the tension between inward nature and outward appearance. Two such works here, Fear of Softness (No. 1) and (No. 2)—a pair of wheeled dollies, the former draped with a men’s T-shirt embroidered with pearls, and the latter supporting a black suit jacket onto which a vacuum-sealed lily had been sutured—were perhaps too tidy in their attempt to upend gender presumptions around modes of attire. But May the memory of that night haunt you, leather interior (No. 1) and (No. 2), made up of pale, vellum-like leather scraps dyed a bruised palette created from shea oil, crushed cherries, and red roses and hung from steel fixtures like stained hand towels, were more indirect and satisfying. Symbolic mementos of the assault, they also acted as more general reminders of our everyday leaks and seepages, of the tenderness and tenuousness that is, finally, the way of all flesh.