Sonya Blesofsky: Tenement at Mixed Greens

by Will Brand on May 28, 2011 Reviews

Venue: Mixed Greens531 West 26th Street
AFC’s Rating: 5/10 (Will Brand)

Sometimes works are better without justification. Sonya Blesofsky’s current show of meticulously-sculpted paper architecture, at Mixed Greens, is a great example of this. Visually, it’s impressive; paper sculpture is trendy at the moment, but works like Window Study: Stanton Street (1) indicate a genuine interest and ability in the medium. When you try to reconcile those visuals with the intellectual premise of the show, though, it starts to fall apart.

Blesofsky recreated architectural components from the facades of buildings listed on a watchlist of New York’s worst landlords, rendering them in ghostly vellum and tin foil. There’s a narrative at work here: walking through the three rooms of the gallery, exterior fixtures attached to the walls—fences, awnings, and cornices—give way to sinks, radiators, and finally a dimly-lit utility room. Where the outside features evoke the stone craftsmanship of pre-war New York, the utility room speaks to deterioration and ruin, with mousetraps and bits of plumbing scattered around the space.

All the objects are to scale and essentially true-to-life, the cornices and ceiling adornments in particular looking as though they’re simply a part of the building. The revelation that they’re from tenements, though, isn’t very powerful: Blesofsky’s visualization doesn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know about the run-down but beautiful buildings of, say, Harlem or Bed-Stuy, and using the spectre of the tenement purely for its weightiness is a cheap move. The use of paper unavoidably brings the idea of impermanence into the work, but once it’s there that idea doesn’t actually do anything: if there’s a fit with the content beyond the general idea of architecture having memory, I can’t see it. Blesofsky’s been working in paper for a while now, and often her choice of topic has made perfect sense—see, for example, the much more effective transformation of her paper-mache concrete blocks and transparent brick-windows in Mixed Greens’s “Paper City” show three years ago. Here, though? Not so much.

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