Jason Dodge at Casey Kaplan Gallery

In many ways a gallery is a stage, lacking only a proscenium and seats. In the case of conceptual artist Jason Dodge, there are acts and there are props, and art emerges between them. For his recent exhibition ‘We Are the Meeting’, Dodge presented us with off-stage events, evidence of suspicious acts, and charismatic objects that connected the aesthetic moment of a gallery visit with an event of significant symbolic order. What appears at first to be a random selection of mundane objects with no correlation to one another, or to any system of implied meaning, begins to reveal layers of narrative verging on the dramaturgical. Dodge is not altogether concerned with providing an experience of clear-cut artistic value; his works do not 'look like' art but more like specimens of evidence at a crime scene or an archeological dig; they are models for the advancement of a form of social anthropology. 

The first room holds a lightning rod, pointing north, with a set of silverware taped to its upper extremity, a gold-colored bed pillow, and a whole metal chimney. The pillow lays on the floor near the other objects and is titled The Mayor Is Sleeping (2013). Its title refers to its use before being exhibited here, as a pillow upon which, for a period of time measured in weeks or months, the mayor of Nurnberg, Germany slept, transferring some charismatic quality with it to the blank and unremarked space of the gallery. Dodge likes objects that have been used by persons outside the exhibition, or objects that are even being used elsewhere and exchanged for new ones to be exhibited. He wants us to feel that we are not exiting life to view art, but that art is a means by which we enter a stage where a greater perspective on life is possible.

The second room is mostly empty except for Carrier (2013) which consists of a large round straw basket with a high voltage flood light clamped onto it, facing a similar lamp attached to a nearby wall and placed so close that the lamps nearly kiss. Along one wall there is a bunch of empty tissue paper boxes each holding a deodorant dispenser, cumulatively titled What we keep doing to ourselves (2013). One can only imagine that Dodge is hinting at the act of using a corporately formulated chemical agent to ‘dry’ ourselves irrespective of possible side effects, when a tissue would do just as well. Despite the slight nod towards a social issue, this piece was meant mainly as a preparation for the transformative experiences on the other side of the door beside which they were placed.

Traveling along the wall from the front office was a length of electrical wire, and through its back wall into the next room, is a thin copper pipe. The wire enters through the south wall and travels around the room counterclockwise until on the north wall it exits through a hole. Another wire enters the room along the western wall until it reaches up to where the other wire exits, where the wire itself ends in a copper fork. The small copper pipe is filled in with hemlock, the poison used to execute Socrates. The uncapped copper pipe, like the electrical wires, is not connected to anything but traverses every room in the gallery, bringing both its physical presence and the implied danger of its exposed poison, into the open air.
Along one side of the third room is a long wall, mostly unlit, where the electrical wire enters and dangles down into a large tank of clear water beside another similar tank with ragged paper towels peeking out from under edges at each end. The work, titled Electric (2013), takes on an added dramatic quality, an air of danger where supposed electricity meets up with a heavy mass of water--a metaphor with elemental qualities that could almost be read as relating to the flood which affected many Chelsea galleries, including Casey Kaplan, during Hurricane Sandy.

The main event in this space seemed to be a work in progress; the random but timed replacement of a set of garishly white fluorescent tubes for rose coloured ones. Groups of each are left upon the floor and a large metal ladder stands ready for use. One never sees the tubes being changed but they obviously are, and the change creates an altered mood, in which we are forced us to see the room as a reflection of colour and not as a mass of details. What is important to Dodge in this instance is the quality of light, which is specifically aesthetic yet commonly taken for granted. We see the action and the objects but we are rarely conscious that light, like electricity or poison, can have presence without being understood.

Just before exiting the room, one may or may not notice a shopping bag filled with various organic groceries that has been left in a far corner of the room, and is a doppelganger to the one placed just inside the entrance to the gallery. These anonymous sculptures combine use value with the generic quality of a stage prop, and together they form a chorus of the commonplace.

‘We Are the Meeting’ presents us with objects and materials that each have a story to tell, and yet in order to make use of the metaphorical power they have as objects, and our physical encounter with them, it is important for Dodge to suggest a story without telling it. Each element here makes a contribution towards our education in understanding how meaning infuses art, and how that degree of meaning is already part of life, and not the sole purview of an art object. We are the audience and we are the committee. A meeting has concluded and the outcome though unsure, is important.


David Adamo at Untitled NY


Art teaches us about the importance of form, but where does art get its ideas? This is a question that is aptly addressed by the sculpture of David Adamo, whose recent exhibition presented the gallery visitor with a form they might never expect to see in a white cube. Adamo is fascinated by the forms inherent in Nature, and how their implicit realness can not only charm or convince but also obfuscate. Adamo uses sculpture as a form of metaphysical or ontological excavation. He starts with a material and an idea, and with both in hand, he digs at the material or amasses it, shaping and sculpting until forms emerge to fulfill his concept. Nature itself presents a version of the real that clashes with the ideas of art history, displacing them.

Adamo's objective this time was to recreate an object that exists only for a specific class of insects; termites who within certain climates are driven to create massive vertical mounds. The mounds are reduced in size from their manifestation in the wild, where they range in height from 10 to 30 feet. Prior to formal or conceptual reasons for making this series of sculptures, Adamo was struck by the inherent ironies they represented. They are domiciles constructed by a species of insect well known for its destructive abilities, and his versions of them, being decidedly smaller than actual mounds, are small objects made by a large being versus a huge structure fashioned by a multitude of tiny creatures. The result is the same even if the aims are different. 

At first glance, the exhibition had an accidental quality, as if someone had left a bunch of nondescript mounds around the gallery, piles of mysterious matter around which that visitors had to navigate. Due to it being especially hot the day I visited, the gallery had its air conditioners turned up, giving it a sort of aquarium feeling. Adamo's sculptures reminded me of the faux fixtures of fish tanks, replicating coral reefs. Each version of the termite mounds differed from the other, and their arrangement within the gallery itself, which has an especially high ceiling, created a cavernous feel that is magnified by the majestic, if reduced, edifices of his individual termite mound recreations.    

The physical ordering of each mound within the gallery was done with regard to the gallery going experience. With nothing on the gallery walls, and the lights turned to a mere glimmer, the mounds each took on a charged presence. They were fabricated from Zellan, a type of synthetic porcelain which, mixed together with a single pigment and otherwise left in the rawest state possible, mimics the appearance of the termite mounds. The first of them were a pair of ‘cathedral’ mounds, named after the type of termite that lives within them, and they are typically formed into rib-like structures that resemble bony hands or the spires atop churches. "Untitled/Cathedral F" (2013) was placed right within the aperture of the door of the main gallery with little room left to pass, visitors had to inch by, and they had little perspective on what the forms were until they emerged into a wide open space between the door and the rear of the gallery, which was organized into a random assortment of 'cathedral' and ‘magnetic’ mounds, some of them pigmented in brown or gold or gray, one even in a cool blue. The magnetic mounds, such as "Untitled/Magnetic E" (2013) are round at the bottom but flatten as they lead upward, so that the top resembles the ridge of a dinosaur's back.

I was struck by the notion that Adamo's fascination with the natural might be a foil for envy, that he is ambivalent between the desire to create a recognition of real things that fall outside everyday experience and the need to create artistically impressive objects. Though many people may understand that termites create mounds, many have never seen them in person, so we must take it on Adamo's knowledge that they are so. His installation reminded me of a childhood trip to the Grand Canyon, in particular a stretch called the Valley of Monuments, bordered on each side by a mountain, a suspended boulder, and a vista of more ridges and stones to come. It was the only time I felt we were breathing the same air as these objects; that we were in time instead of merely passing time. I felt this again with Adamo's sculpture, and the air was good.

Published in Frieze Magazine, January 2014 


David Gibson is a writer and curator native-born and bred in New York City, the New York Art World, and the greater world extending in all directions. He and Jennifer Junkermeier recently curated the exhibition “Beauty’s Burden” at The Ernest Rubenstein Gallery of the Educational Alliance. He is availlable to write essays for artist and gallery websites and catalogues.