Talking Trash

On the heels of Dumpster Diving, my report on Portia Munson's installation at Montserrat College of Art, three current New York shows put cultural castoffs to interesting use, each in a different way, by casting, duplicating and recycling.

Ivin Ballen: Poodle, 2007; fiberglass, aqua resin, acrylic

Cast castoffs In 50/50 at Edward Winkleman, Ivin Ballen takes discarded packaging materials to fashion strong, geometrically inclined constructions that hover between dimensional painting and relief sculpture. I was interested in the work for its material geometry. But wait, what looks like commonplace corrugated, tape and plastic sheeting are actually cast and painted resin doppengangers so subtle, and then so startling, you have to resist the urge to touch. It seems like ecological folly to make more trash, but of course the second time around it's anything but.


Tom Pfannerstill: Mr. Bubbles, 2004, acrylic and wood, 7.5 x 4 inches

Trompe l’oeil trash At OK Harris, Tom Pfannerstill gathers the everyday throwaways that find their way onto sidewalks and into gutters—cigarette packs, condom boxes, coffee cups, juice boxes, candy wrappers—and meticulously reproduces each object in carved and painted wood. Pfannerstill even notes on the back of each life-size sculpture where the original was found. Whether you think of this work as an observation on the passage of time, an appreciation of the uniqueness of even the mundane, or a commentary on our throwaway culture, you have to look because it takes a particular kind of obsessiveness to turn a sow’s ear into a precisely crafted version of a sow’s ear. There are about three dozen installed on the long wall of the Corridor Gallery. Go look.


Shinique Smith: Contemplation, 2007 , mixed media sculptural installation, dimensions variable

Recycled totems In a third major showing of her work in New York this year--at Caren Golden Fine Art with Mikalene Thomas, the Unmonumental show at the newly opened New Museum, and now here at Moti Hasson--Shinique Smith takes real castoffs and bundles them into new forms. Titled All Purpose, the show might easily be titled Higher Purpose. There's something totemic about the way she reforms and binds clothing and objects into new objects and sets them into seemingly biographical vignettes. As when you visit Ellis Island and other museums devoted to our cultural experience, the chi of the former owners seeps out of every stitch. Smith redirects this stream of--what, unconsciousness?--into a non-linear narrative that mixes poignancy and power.

I can’t say I left any of these exhibitions with a newfound appreciation for our cultural castoffs, but I’m totally in awe of the genius of these reincarnations.

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