Shit: a group exhibition
Feature Inc., September 10 – 27, 2008
So it’s in the air. Three shows opening the new season in New York all bear the word “shit” in their titles: Andres Serrano’s Shit at Yvon Lambert (reviewed here by Robert C. Morgan), Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s The Fan and The Shit (reviewed by Shane McAdams), and Shit: a group exhibition at Feature’s brand new, barely finished space on the Bowery.
Profanity is like buckshot: one word can cover a range of meanings, all of them imprecise. The exhibition at Feature could have just as easily been called Detritus or Stuff (from the gallery’s website: “Found stuff … lower end stuff. I was surprised to discover how many Feature affiliates use found objects in their work. Everything comes from somewhere.”) or, to cite the overriding influence on most of its works, After Rauschenberg.
The exhibition covers much of the same ground as the ill-fated Unmonumental shows at the New Museum last winter, but it does so with a wit, variety, and sense of play that eluded those exercises in slapdash overkill. The gallery space itself is relatively small—one of the mixed blessings of the new Lower East Side scene—and it has been put to maximum advantage, with some pieces, like Kay Rosen’s “W,” an oil stick painting on newsprint, or Vincent Fecteau’s “Shirley Temple Room #7” (1994), a rainbow-colored cardboard assemblage inside a shoe box, occupying the floor instead of the wall or a pedestal. Many of the works are mounted in combinations of two or three, and some are grouped with such sensitivity to theme and material that they could pass for an installation from a single artist.
This arrangement, while effectively structuring the show, can also seem a little too pat, even cunning. The floor pieces are positioned just so, devoid of anarchic verve. Some of the works look a bit too clean for their own good, like Mai Braun’s “Untitled” (2008), a watercolor on found paper with a red letter “K” painted repeatedly forwards and backwards. And there are others, such as David Moreno’s digital C-print, “Dust” (2007), Tamara Zahakevich’s “you are welcome, meltdown” (2008), a brushy, drippy construction of cutout foam board, and “Drive by / Fly by” (2001-2008), David Deutsch’s eerie night shots of spotlighted white houses, that belie the low-rent theme with their lush and simple beauty.
So why has a perfectly nice exhibition like this one been titled Shit? I can attest that it served as a hook to attract eyeballs into the gallery. It could also be a ploy to co-opt the scruffiness of Feature’s new Skid Row address. But, on a deeper level, this show and the two mentioned above could be perceived as a collective sigh of resignation over the hole we have fallen into as a nation and a culture. Things have gotten so bad—and are getting worse as I write this—that sputtering inchoate expletives may be the only authentic response we have left. This isn’t the first time that excrement, metaphorical or literal, has made its appearance in modern art (see James Kalm’s prescient Brooklyn Dispatch, “Call it Merde (and They Will Eat It): Ruminations on Crap,” which appeared in these pages exactly one year ago) and it won’t be the last. The trick is to mold our disgrace into tragedy and our absurdities into the sublime.