The living and the dead, Gavin Brown's enterprise

New York

The living and the dead installation view at Gavin Brown's enterprise, NY: Image courtesy Gavin Brown's enterpriseThe living and the dead installation view at Gavin Brown's enterprise, NY
Images courtesy Gavin Brown's enterprise

By Aileen Burns

The living and the dead
Gavin’s Brown Enterprise
July 1 - Aug. 7, 2009

Meditations on life and death are hardly standard summer fare; however, this exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise takes viewers down an unexpectedly dark road tinged with humour. The living and the dead brings together sixty works by artists ranging from international superstars like Cindy Sherman, New York staples Dan Colen and Roe Ethridge, and fresh faces like Cara Siik Benedetto and Ajay Kurian. Other figures, such as Félix González-Torres and Mark Rothko, haunt the exhibition through playful homage in the works of Scott Penkava and Rob Pruitt.

From the entry of the main gallery, entropic deterioration is immediately evident. Michael Caputo’s yellow, smiley-faced helium balloons, which gave the opening a carnivalesque quality, are now shrivelling sadly on the floor. Across the room, Anicka Yi’s vase of deep fried flowers are sagging sickeningly. Grease drips down the plinth and onto an oily piece of paper below. However disconcerting it may be to see works collapse over the course of an exhibition, you cannot help but find humour in a tempura-like floral arrangement; big bouquets are normally reserved for a gallery’s front desk.

Economics 101 is a cheeky piece invoking the dubious nature of the gallery system. ronkom has installed a change machine in the gallery wall. If you are curious enough to slip in a dollar bill, you will be left with just two shiny quarters. After putting in a dollar, I should have expected that the gallery would eat-up half. That is, after all, the normal cut for a commercial dealer.

Matthew Ronay’s Seep is a particularly commanding contribution to the show. The work’s playful, pop aesthetic coaxes you in but, on closer examination, the sculpture reveals itself as a site of a morbid and emasculating ritual. A larger-than-life scorpion is impaled on a menacing stake and semen-like liquid drips from the site of penetration, down towards an evil eye, a small Brancusi-esque totem and a pile of simulation rocks scattered on the ground below. The work resists narrative closure, encouraging exploration and interpretation instead.

Maybe there is enough filth and decay in the streets of New York during the hot summer months but, if you can stomach the sight of it, this exhibition might help you learn to laugh about it.

The living and the dead installation view at Gavin Brown';s enterprise, NY: Image courtesy Gavin Brown's enterprise   The living and the dead installation view at Gavin Brown's enterprise, NY: Image courtesy Gavin Brown's enterprise

Aileen BurnsAileen Burns is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently writing her Master's Thesis in Contemporary Art at Columbia University.