New York

Simone Kearney, Crier (XXI), 2022, unfired clay, 15 × 10 × 7". From the series “Criers,” 2021–22.

Simone Kearney, Crier (XXI), 2022, unfired clay, 15 × 10 × 7". From the series “Criers,” 2021–22.

Simone Kearney

Yes, this is a disheartening era we’re living through. I didn’t really need the text accompanying “Criers”—poet and artist Simone Kearney’s exhibition here—to remind me that we’re living through a “time of global pandemic, war, and ecological catastrophe”; most days I feel like Anthony Quinn at the end of Fellini’s La strada. Au courant in that sense, Kearney’s show took its name from a series of ceramic heads, twenty-five of which occupied the main space at Brooklyn’s Undercurrent gallery. A roomful of weeping faces, however far from realistic in their rendering, might sound like a lugubrious prospect, but Kearney’s sculptures teem with vitality and wit. They are funny before they are poignant but are all the more poignant for being funny. Seeing them lifted my spirit, reminding me that even tears can register the psyche’s resistance to circumstance.

Each of Kearney’s heads from the series “Criers,” 2021–22, is an individual, every one differing from the others in form, method, and even material. Kearney’s clay is sometimes fired, sometimes not, and a few of the pieces combined the two. And while her objects are usually unglazed, there are exceptions; moreover, she mixed stones into the clay for several of the works. Crier (XXVII), 2022, for instance, was a sort of mask, with three crude apertures slashed into a convex surface that seems to have been pounded together into a rough, moon-shaped face, calling to mind some mournful Muppet (Ernie gripped by despair?). Crier (XXXII), 2022, was a gritty mass bristling with sharp pebbles—its expression is rather impassive, yet tears gush from its eyes in the shape of two big bluish cylinders. Crier (VI), 2021, had been kneaded almost to the point of losing its identity as a head, despite the prominent ears that stick out like handles, whereas in Crier (XXI), 2022, formed mainly of lacy loops of clay, the artist spells out facial features—a bow tie–shaped mouth, a nose like an upside-down question mark, eyes from which teardrops hang like earrings—with diagrammatic explicitness.

From one perspective, a head is as simple a form as you can imagine: All it takes is a roughly oval configuration with some holes or protrusions to indicate eyes and mouth. There are many ways to see a head, one might think upon encountering this ensemble; yet, by the same token, each one crying in its own style of self-absorption might have canceled out the qualities of the others. Could the source of their grief be that they can’t agree on what they’re actually grieving over? Riven by unspoken emotion in excess, Kearney’s subjects are incapable of receiving succor. Their anguish, though visible, is beyond our comprehension.

Kearney gave “Criers” a prelude and a coda in The Loquela, 2022, an array of 117 framed texts, hand inscribed on letter-size horizontal sheets, displayed beside the stairs down to the basement exhibition space. The declarative meaning of the texts that seems always on the verge of revealing itself is stymied without being completely undone. The paper itself, with its definitive edges, cuts language off while tempting us to piece it together again, matching the broken parts up like a puzzle: RE IS MO / RE LIKE A / SUBSTAN / CE EMA NATING /FROM A / PRESSURE, for instance. But where’s the start of that statement, and where does it finish? The gaps in meaning become as vivid as its crisp fragments.