Sadie Benning, Patterns
Callicoon Fine Arts
49 Delancey Street
September 14th to October 26, 2014
Images can be deceiving. At first, I had thought that Sadie Benning’s entire show of large-scale collages at Callicoon was made of faux leather– it wasn’t until I physically left the gallery that a friend informed me they were not. I had to return.
Her large-scale collages are actually made almost entirely out of aqua resin and paint—and occasionally a photograph or bit of fabric. The panels themselves are full of pared-down references to cheap materials and products; sometimes these references were as specific as a silhouette of a cigarette pack, other times as general as a pieced-together scraps of a rug. Pattern is dominant.
Once in the gallery again, I was surprised to learn that the illusion wasn’t all that seamless. Up close, you can easily see the brush marks and flecks of paint on the resin. But there’s a smell of synthetic fabric that permeates the gallery, so when you’re looking at what appears to be a lot of fake leather paintings, the resin can be missed. I speculated with my friend that perhaps this was the result of the artist’s decision to lay green carpet over the floor, but that seemed like a long shot. Whatever the case, the exhibition has a weird nouveau riche tackiness that makes it feel like a corporate showroom.
The press release tells us that “Benning uses repetition and patterning in these works to evoke systems of social order and control” which, well, sure. Repetition of motive is used often, and we see a picture of an oil spill in one image, along with a painted superhero mask that projects a beam of light leading to a found photograph of a city landscape. There’s no specific narrative here, but I got that this was a show about corporate control. Violence and oil mega-companies need to be fought.
The larger paintings verge on tackiness. “Julie’s Rug,” a painting made of rectangular yellow, orange, and black tile shapes seems a little too craftsy. By contrast, “Rain Signal,” a white painting with marked only with crisp blue dashes uses the palette and generic minimalism of a pharmaceutical logo. It would fit in virtually corporate office that needs branding for a product they don’t want to illustrate—a quality that is almost certainly part of Bennings interests—though we’re told this piece is supposed to evoke invisible military communication systems.
Narratives do start to form. For example, “Gun Blanket,” a spare painting depicting what could be a line of guns shooting a line of bullets, appear to take aim at some smaller nearby paintings of cigarette cartons. Fight the man! As I see it, the cigarette cartons, represent both major corporations and low class desires they control.
On its own, this might be a simplistic message, but the visual elements add up to a larger and more complex statement. The illusionistic qualities of the paintings, when paired with the iconography and carpet, begin to take on a dark and insidious tone. Nothing seems real. You get the feeling you’re in a room that’s little more than a corporate front, and whatever the actual entity does, you know it’s up to no good.