Featuring artists Leilah Babirye, Kristi Cavataro, Jes Fan, Doreen Lynette Garner, Hugh Hayden, Elizabeth Jaeger Hannah Levy, Eli Ping, Jessi Reaves, Devon Turnbull (OJAS), Kristin Walsh
The odds are good, the goods are odd is a group exhibition that highlights a new generation of New York-based sculptors. Bringing together artworks across a range of mediums, the presentation showcases the divergent ethoses behind sculpture-making today. The featured artists favor the handmade, creating a spectrum of artworks that range from the polished and conceptual, to the raw and visceral.
United through the use of atypical materials, the eleven artists in the exhibition inhabit a field outside of the sculptural norm and resist a trend-driven system. They opt, instead, to confront formality. The artists share an interest in how the human body, its strength and its fragility, is challenged by innumerable contemporary forces — from disease and illness to a dislocation in a digital world. They employ laborious practices and through their respective methods, from collecting detritus during their travels to precise sharpening of their constructions, the presence of the artists’ hands on the work remains unmistakable. The exhibition aims to accentuate the atypical disciplines that inform the orientation of sculpture-making today.
Eighteen glazed ceramic figures presented by Leilah Babirye, assembled with materials collected from the streets of New York, examine LGBTQ+ history and confront the cultural traditions surrounding sexuality and human rights in the artist’s native Uganda. Babirye deliberately uses dispensed components in her work, citing ‘ebisiyaga’, the derogatory term for queer persons in the Luganda language, that translates to the discarded part of the sugarcane husk. The artist’s recycled materials are a reclamation of her community, and figures draw from a range of African artistic traditions.
Across the front gallery are stationed two large stained-glass sculptures, one mounted to the wall and the other situated on the floor, by Kristi Cavataro. The multifaceted structures, at once rounded and cubic, are the product of tedious mathematic calculations and hands-on construction. An adaptation of the Louis Comfort Tiffany technique, used in the nineteenth century for the notorious Art Nouveau stained glass designs, each glass tile is individually cut and soldered to create an unexpected, architectural shape. Contorted material continues in works from Eli Ping’s Monocarp and Mote series. Canvas becomes a sculptural medium in the pronged, diamond-shaped figures. Ping slits, stretches and pulls the canvas through itself before pouring resin onto the newly elongated and knotted forms, crystallizing them into bone-like matter. Standing on three legs or wall-mounted, the works offer a new formal encounter and may hint at a metaphor under the artificial alabaster.
Nearby sit Kristin Walsh’s ominous machines. Working primarily in aluminum, Kristin Walsh fabricates sculptures that reference the decreasingly-human worlds of manufacturing and industrialization. Forgoing mass production techniques, Walsh cuts, bends, welds and fuses each sculpture from sheet metals. Her works feature a waxed and highly-polished surface that offers a sense of the platonic ideal of the referenced object, while the handcrafted fabrication repudiates our relationship to mass production. Walsh’s machines have included engineered sounds of clock-making that engage with linear notions of time and efficiency. The work in the exhibition transform the typically-utilitarian into the dystopic and uncanny.
Situated at the center of the gallery is a colossal horse by Hugh Hayden. In his practice, Hayden begins with objects which inherently carry significant associations with societal categorization: race, religion, ethnicity, education, sexuality and the like. After sourcing specific species of wood, Hayden uses a rigorous process of sawing, sanding and sculpting to create recognizable yet twisted forms. The effect is a metaphorical disruption of traditional American social context. The horse, an enduring Americana symbol, is crafted from Cypress wood local to the southeastern United States. The skeleton has become a recurring theme in Hayden’s iconography. It is devoid of external identifiers and carries the suggestion of past, and perhaps impending, extinction.
Presented in contrast with the to-scale horse are seven new sculptures by Elizabeth Jaeger that continue the artist’s exploration of existential concepts through the depiction of miniature human figures. The little bodies in the ceramic and blackened steel dioramas stand inside dark voids or atop hanging teacups. Jaeger has used the caliginous china to interrogate the promise of the middle class. The scenes test perceptions of the nuclear family and human fragility, and challenge the viewer to engage with their relationship to their own physicality.
The sculptures of Doreen Lynette Garner engage the body through a historical lens. The artist examines past and present patterns of medically sanctioned racial violence, focusing on medical experimentation on Black womens’x bodies in the US and illustrating the consequent indignity. Garner’s 2017 works, Known But To God: The Dug Up, Dissected, and Disposed for the Sake of Medicine, combine a wide range of materials – glass, silicone, steel, epoxy putty, pearls, Swarovski crystals, whiskey – to suggest mangled body parts, bodily fluids and human remains. Lucy’s Agony (2021) furthers the depiction of these experiments, and points to the current inequities in medical care.
Corporeality extends to sculptures by Jes Fan and Hannah Levy. Jes Fan’s Clavicle Repeated Four Times (2022) features molds from the body of an ex-lover. The artist explores the materiality of the gendered body and its intersection with biology. Opting to use the literal substances of biology that have been applied to typify identity, Fan has previously utilized melanin, testosterone, estrogen, urine and other corporal materials in his handblown-glass and pigments. The organic material is incorporated into a larger, inorganic construction. In Rack I (2022), a glass, cadaver-esque form sags over a metal towel rack, built to scale with the artist’s body. The combination is also displayed in Hannah Levy’s carnal forms. Levy’s visual language is an amalgam of recognizable objects – chairs, shoes, hooks, medical supplies, vegetables – absurdly amended by the addition of stretched silicone. The polished steel and exaggerated formal properties in Levy’s structures take an enigmatic position between sensual object and operative furniture.
Jessi Reaves constructs her furniture, some functional some not, out of humble materials often found or scavenged. Her fabrication methods are spontaneous and while her guiding lines may not decide the definitive structure, they remain apparent. The vertical composition of Set to self destruct (2021) features recycled T-shirts mounted to lamp shade frames. The work is interwoven with glass, sawdust, paint and wood glue. European Yellow Couch (2018), instead, sits horizontal, intact and ready for use. The artist questions the purpose of each construction, toying with perceptions of practicality and aesthetics.
A listening room crafted by Devon Turnbull is also featured in the exhibition, a rare foray into the sculptural realm for the audio- and designed-inclined multidisciplinarian. Trained as an audio engineer, Turnbull, who also goes by the creative pen name OJAS, creates high efficacy speakers and low powered tube amplifiers by hand. Each sound sculpture is unique, and Turnbull meticulously sources rare audio parts to build his intricate, yet minimally-designed constructions. Throughout the run of the exhibition, the gallery will present week-long, focused programs in the listening room that feature rare music records and additional audio highlights.
The odds are good, the goods are odd, Exhibition view. 504 West 24th Street, New York. 29 June – 5 August, 2022. © Lisson Gallery, Courtesy Lisson Gallery