On ViewLa Mama Galleria
June 10 – July 30, 2021
The readymade has long been one of the art world’s most misunderstood tropes. From its beginnings in Dada and Surrealism to contemporary assemblage pieces, artists have repurposed the common object into a site of willful, often playful disruption through alterations—a cut here, a splash of paint there—and juxtapositions in exhibition space. These tactics alter the everyday meaning of a thing whose purpose in the world was otherwise taken for granted. Yet many artists and curators frequently fall victim to the paradox that makes readymades so powerful in the correct context: you cannot actually illustrate interruption without fully fleshing out the context the artist seeks to disrupt through their art practice, be that a socioeconomic, historical, or aesthetic one. La Mama Galleria’s new exhibition fetch fiddle fidget is caught in this trap. While there are strong individual pieces in fetch fiddle fidget, the exhibition is undermined by its desire to seek out the uncanny without any clear articulation of the conditions that make such objects subversive in the first place, making otherwise strong critiques of contemporary consumerist culture’s absurdities fall flat.
The three artists in fetch fiddle fidget—Daphne Fitzpatrick, Rune Olsen, and Adriana Farmiga—have mostly disparate practices, but are aligned in their use of found and collected objects as the basis for their work. Described by La Mama as “[sharing] a fondness for the absurdities of the daily and the mundane, exploring how these speak to the larger structures of our world,” Fitzpatrick, Olsen, and Farmiga present selections of sculpture, painting, and even video that see the Thing—in both its literal and theoretical context—as a starting point in interrogations of the socioeconomic structures that rule our everyday. Unfortunately, the specific anti-capitalist and queer critiques that these artists present are only sometimes successful, weighed down by the fact that their individual statements feel lost and unspecific without more robust intellectual framing.
The obvious highlight here are Daphne Fitzpatrick’s found object works that—true to their readymade format—consist of slight alterations to objects that Fitzpatrick collected on their journeys around New York. Fitzpatrick’s work stands out for the obvious care they take to respect and highlight the details in the original object and the gallery space’s construction. One of the first pieces one sees when entering La Mama, Club & Bat (2021)—which, as the title suggests, is constructed with a found baseball bat and golf club balancing on one another—is held up by the golf club’s endpoint resting gently in a dent in the gallery wall. The care taken to fully incorporate their found objects in the space is also clear in pieces such as The saucepan takes a wife and The declarer finesses (both 2021). These assemblages are both suspended from the gallery ceiling and use their hanging apparatuses as part of their overall sculptural forms. Both works are well-considered and thoughtful pieces from floor to ceiling.
Also strong, Adriana Farmiga’s selected works concern her time spent in the swimming pool, doing laps amongst the inflatables and plastics that define the space as a place for athletic activity and recreation. Many of the pieces included in the exhibition are paintings, such as Aqua Bells and Palm Study (both 2019). These are playful reinterpretations of the idea of the found object, presenting them as a still life instead of a three-dimensional object. Farmiga also created fetch fiddle fidget’s sole video piece, titled POOL:LOOP (2017). This video, which is taken from the perspective of a person swimming laps in an indoor pool, is immersive to a hypnotizing and near dizzying effect. It serves as a necessary complement to her work, but also reveals a division at the center of the exhibition. Farmiga’s pieces, as tightly and thoughtfully conceived as they are, feel a bit awkward among the less thematic work of Olsen and Fitzpatrick. At times, the exhibition feels like two clashing shows that have been brought together. The thorough world-building that we find in POOL:LOOP and the artist’s other works almost engulfs the pieces by the other artists, and it thus ultimately serves as a distraction—a disappointment considering that the artist’s work would likely fare very well in a solo presentation.
The weakest pieces of the exhibition belong to Rune Olsen, whose juxtaposition of object and meaning to parody materialism run amok feels simultaneously overwrought and half-baked. The tongue-in-cheek but superficial Narcissistic Socialism (2021), for example, combines a shiny necklace and polyurethane toast charred with the words that give the work its title, but the overly sardonic attempt at cleverness rests on the empty flashiness of its materials and not their meaning. What are we meant to take from this? Olsen’s sculptures do not add much to the conversation in comparison to the thoughtfulness of Fitzpatrick’s sculptures and the well-rounded execution of Adriana Farmiga’s pool-themed offerings.
fetch fiddle fidget showcases a number of successful pieces from three sculpturally-inclined artists, but these pieces alone cannot save the exhibition from its lack of context or center. Relying on the readymade structure as a uniting feature, the show does not help us to understand how these pieces relate to the surreal, hyper-critical nature of the genre, making otherwise strong work seem empty and unfocused. The pieces from Adriana Farmiga and Daphne Fitzpatrick are resoundingly strong and show a rigorous sense of vision, but the rubric of the “found object” does not present them to their best advantage—they are undermined both by their juxtaposition to each other and the framing of the exhibition as a whole.