Finding little stars in non-art objects


Daphne Fitzgerald’s studio visits produce an ‘uncanny’ constellation


Curated by Daphne Fitzpatrick

Through December 21

La Mama La Galleria

6 E. First Street

212-505-2476, lamama.org

There are many ways to peer inside the soul of another—and of yourself. Art is packed with psychological, aesthetic and historical lenses. But the objects one has around one—the talismans, the charms and detritus of a lingered over childhood—relics like these offer insights into our thought processes as well.

The amusing show “Duck Soup” is a collection of items that the curator chose from artists’ studios. The exhibit opens a window wherein we can see our own interpretations of the owner’s and their spaces.

Director Matt Masser met the curator Daphne Fitzpatrick through another artist, Adriana Farmiga. Farmiga is represented in the show by a painting of playing cards on a round black box. The box appears to be upside down without a lid and the black and white cards have a discarded feel, like a warm-up piece or a project tossed off and then pushed aside. The entire show has a worn feeling, a seaminess that links one winking object to another.

At the opening Elena Fortes, Executive Director of Ambulante, a Mexican film company, remarked on this quality noting that a creepy undertone ran throughout.

Repression and projection

“Uncanny” is how Masser describes it, saying that Fitzpatrick was inspired by Mike Kelley’s show by the same name at the Tate four years ago. Kelley was referring to Freud’s definition of uncanny: “a familiar thing that has undergone repression and then emerged from it.” Kelley chose “harems” of non-art objects to cluster. Because every figurative object possesses metaphorical potential, Kelley argues, shifting their context “provokes the viewer to project into it in a more controlled way than they would naturally.”

Fitzpatrick, who is represented by Bellwether Gallery, is known as an artist who uses found objects and shifting contexts in her own work. Expanding on the concept, she visited 44 artist’s studios and found an objet trouvé of sorts, a non-art thing from each.

Massey noted a loose theme of the “masculine and butch… and the uncanny, something that resounds with you. Something you remember as a child and has new meaning now that you see it as an adult.”

Spread out on five tables the 44 items appeared like archeological specimens from a rich dig. Siobhan Liddell’s gray sandstone with smoothbore holes drilled through it addressed the interface between time and sculpture. Across from it, dozed a dried cotton plant replete with a knot of withered roots, courtesy Robert Buck.

A tribe of spoons with tea-bags wrapped around them, rose from a glass. The incongruity of everyday things being in the context of a gallery or museum adds a layer of irrepressibility. Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s spoons are all different. Old, ornate scrollwork on the handle provokes a positively Proustian moment as the mind reels backwards for associations.

A sense of decay and deflation (literally in the case of Catherine Opie’s limp balloon souvenir) chimes from one piece to another around the room. Sam Messer’s piece dating from 1919 is a strange taxidermic chimera that practically sends shivers down your spine. Like a tiny dog or a greyhound of a mouse, it’s neck ripped and stuffing showing, it stares with glassy black eyes into a horrific void.

Eerie vibrations

Amy Sillman’s orange larvae-boy, plastic toy figure in a bottle of water moved eerily when one came near. The vibrations of the viewer’s footsteps jostled the water causing the little imp to jiggle, startlingly, implying for a disturbing moment of doubt, the possibility of life within the archly artificial. Kelley refers to this reaction as a recognition of a “double” resulting from the figure being suspended between life and death.

In the same vein of causing a “double” take, several pieces addressed disguise. An empty pregnant woman costume container hinted at Halloween (Abbey Williams). There were two masks. Conjuring a time warp to an evil empire, Ronald Regan was propped up by a spray bottle of glass cleaner (Carrie Moyer). A very sad Bozo the Clown type pouted, having had most of its frosty pink hair pulled out leaving disconcerted cornrows (Dave Hardy). A beard and moustache of brunette coils suggested a fustian dialogue (Rachel Foullon).

Utility is another category. Cabled red wire in a snug silver jacket sits next to a red disc with a yellow pyramid (Jessica Stockholder). A gray rotary phone forlornly replays all the calls of its glory days (Lisa Raskin).

Fortes’s favorite piece was by Wolfy. A well-intentioned looking, unpresumptuous handwritten “I Owe You $10 * promise.” On notepaper with a cell number, it held a special audacity along with tatterdemalion tenderness.

One image presented a wry and shipwrecked visage that could well have spoken for all of the merry crew. It was a Douglas Fairbanks pirate bust that had been dropped and had its nose chipped (Lisa Ross). Indeed, it had a few flecks missing here and there. But the determined smile of assurance remained beneath all the knicks and scrapes time had dealt it as if to say, “Ahoy, matey! I weathered the storm. Ha!” Aha.

In a gesture to the future and the promise of hope, Cherly Donegan’s crudely sketched “Barack Obama” poster with its abstract tangle of red and black marker deliriously tearing up the foreground makes the heart sing, even if slightly off-key and askew.