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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

All Issues
MAY 2019 Issue

Jessi Reaves: II

Installation view: Jessi Reaves: II, Bridget Donahue, New York, 2019. Photo: Gregory Carideo. © Jessi Reaves. Courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York.

The show announcement for Jessi Reaves’s II features a screen grab from a chase scene in Jack Reacher, a 2012 blockbuster action film starring Tom Cruise, in which a vintage, Chamberlain-ed Chevelle tries to run an unbudging, silvery Audi off the road. The image, once removed from the context of the film, serves as a poetic visualization of both tension and collision between material and time, a perfect (and waggish) analog to the tenor of the show.

Half the gallery space is occupied by a platform entirely carpeted with a dense, chocolate-colored pile. The platform performs a clever play on the media pit customary of luxe, tricked-out homes of the 1970s (a suburban basement replete with underage drinkers comes to mind too). Reaves takes the lines and color of the retro decor and transforms them into a tiered and minimal structure. The platform lends the social, repose-ready elements that have run through Reaves’s sculptures which have persistently taken form as chimeric furniture. Viewers can lounge in the pit but must mount or even traverse the brown isle to access some of the work in the exhibition.

On View
March 14 – May 12, 2019
New York

The sculptures fuse familiar materials in unlikely combinations—glass, sawdust, polyester, rubber, driftwood—and subsume ready-made (or made-to-look ready-made) furniture parts to form animate composites. Hanging above the pile carpet, Drive through the back of your eyes (2019) functions as an uncanny sconce. The metal structure of interconnected fixtures sits on the wall like a cluster of hard-shelled insects. A muted glow is cast through shades made from stretched-out statement T-shirts. One shade reads, I Can’t Go Out I Have A Podcast To Listen To, another sports a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin.

While still employing, signifying, or comprising furniture shapes, these sculptures have partially shed their utilitarian skin. They persist in their meditation on use and disuse—or function and dysfunction—through interventions on modernist design’s fixed formalisms and tropes. Reaves decorates and dislocates the once austere, practical forms with what translates to expressionistic action. (In one sculpture, Reaves has quite literally flipped and lodged Breuer’s Wassily chair into a glass, phone booth-like structure). Instead of offering a place to sit, the sculptures take on the function of storage in the form of cabinets, racks, and coverings. Redemption Island Standing Table (2019) features a black, leather, mid-century lounger encased within a glass housing. The worn seat dons a sewn-on patch bearing the logo of reality show, Survivor. A compound of glue and sawdust hugs edges of the chair like a crust. A piece of driftwood serves as an arm. There is a sense that we’ve caught the chair mid-transition—decomposing, returning to earth, to natural form. Inside the glass encasement, the chair’s transition is halted, time stopped. It is easy to picture a civilization on the brink, holding onto what it has, attempting to keep things whole. Waking up was getting into Discipline (2019) appears as an inaccessible shelter where a diaphanous yellow fabric, with vaginal slits and phallic juts, is fitted like a tent over a delicate, skeletal structure. Metal and wood move in gestural undulations.

Installation view: Jessi Reaves: II, Bridget Donahue, New York, 2019. Photo: Gregory Carideo. © Jessi Reaves. Courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York.

Reaves manipulates and riffs upon classic furniture pieces (II includes Breuer’s Wassily Chair and Morgensen’s Spanish Chair) and re-introduces old favorites like recurring characters on a veteran TV show. The Cesca chair, Marcel Breuer’s 1928 design, has been a longstanding muse for Reaves. The Cesca (or its replica), a perennial presence in kitchens, offices, and municipal buildings alike is also often found lonely and discarded on a sidewalk or curb, the caning spent and punctured. This dichotomy makes the chair a fitting subject for Reaves. Her earlier interventions on the design include a sculpture in which the chair is slipcovered in a pink, gossamer fabric hugging the curves like the hips of an elegant gala-goer. In another, the Cesca is swallowed and integrated into an island-like upholstered structure. Blue heart shelf (2019) employs three Cescas which are stacked high into a tower formation bordered by a rectangular wooden frame serving as a scaffold. In the negative space between two 69-ing chairs, a blue plexiglass drawer is inserted. An orange, shellacked fabric runs the length of the sculpture like a great hunchback. The utilitarian function of the piece is relocated from seat to shelf. Instead of stacking the chairs to be stored, they become a vehicle to store.

Quilting these hard forms and materials (metal, wood, plastic), Reaves lends them an unexpected softness. She probes a shifty play between subject-hood and object-hood. The sculptures can feel like eccentric characters liable to talk your ear off. They tacitly answer questions of why we have deeper love for things that are “home-made” even if they don’t function as well, or even at all. The sculptures are buoyed in an invisible, latent nostalgia which sits at the core and sneaks up like a sucker punch triggering divergent sensory memories in concert. Reaves has an innate capacity to kickstart the imagination and make it hum.


Eliza Barry

ELIZA BARRY is an artist, writer, and musician. She lives and works in New York City.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

All Issues