Jessica Stockholder’s synthetic aesthetic is a strange fit for the beautifully planted Madison Square Park, and her first outdoor installation was a confusing mix of resistance and concessions made to its setting. The alien, saturated colors of a seating platform and set of bleachers took little inspiration from their verdant surroundings. Yet to make this durable furniture for park users, she disappointingly abandoned the improvisatory quality that makes her work so rich. True to Stockholder’s practice of experimenting with unconventional materials, she also created a design in greenery and colorful plastics, but the result is as disjointed and uncommunicative as the installation as a whole.
Among the characteristic sculptures of repurposed consumer goods in her concurrent gallery show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, a standout assemblage resembled a matronly figure standing before orbs of light on a lawn-like base, making a clever connection between inside and out. But instead of taking the next step and actually engaging the natural world in the outdoor installation, the piece looks ill at ease, its colors and geometries relating less to the park itself than the man-made objects and structures visible on its perimeter.
In what should have been the installation’s focal point, but which was instead a segment of the show half-hidden behind the bleachers, Stockholder attempted a literal combination of nature and culture with a winsome, asymmetrical arrangement of grasses and flowers alongside a too-sparse scattering of man-made materials. The myriad associations that Stockholder can evoke with everyday objects makes her practice compelling; but the banality of this planting suggests we have a more developed relationship with our most commonplace, manufactured junk than with the products of nature. Stockholder’s outdoor debut can leave one wanting to see the artist get back indoors to her studio.
Originally published in Flash Art International, no 268, October 2009.