If most gallery shows are essentially one-liners, rewarding a few minutes of attention with a quick chuckle and a feeling of having "gotten it," Rachel Harrison's recent show at Greene Naftali was more like that long absurdist riddle about an elephant in a bathtub ending with the incomprehensible punch line, "No soap, radio."
Like the work of Jessica Stockholder and Jason Rhoades, Harrison's objects and installations fuse a mildly anarchic, neo-Dadaist sensibility with a free-wheeling, Home-Depot-inspired formalism. For the past few years, her work has been a prominent fixture in the many group shows curated by Kenny Schachter in and around New York; she made her solo debut last spring with an elaborate installation in the prewar parlor of the Arena Gallery in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill.
For her latest solo show, Harrison created a off-kilter world of creamy decorator pastels, a world in which a banal snapshot is mysteriously embedded in a boulder-like blob of cornflower-blue papier-mâché, a shelf is lined with a row of dusty cans of olives and celebrity photos, and petal-pink Styrofoam sheets are etched with melodramatic soap-opera phrases.
Entry into the gallery was via Snake in the Grass, a maze-like installation of hanging panels suspended from the ceiling by a web of lemon-yellow rope and anchored to the floor by mint-green plastic sandbags. One encountered along the way an obscure series of clues all tangentially connected to the conspiracy theorist's favorite scene -- the grassy knoll in Dallas, Tex., that overlooked The Kennedy assassination scene. Six color photographs of the same patch of grass were lined up side by side, each printed in a different shade of green by a different commercial photo lab. A Cuban cigar rested on the top of a framed picture of a postcard-bearing vendor outside the Grassy Knoll gift shop. A snapshot of a large, desiccated snake skin lay curled up on a shiny, kelly-green shovel. But this was no pat one-liner: the clues don't add up, the puzzle pieces don't quite fit together, and meaning is where you make it.
Just around the corner was the funniest piece of mis-appropriation art this side of the 1980s. In Horse Heath Harrison recreated an unsold objet d'art by Miss Mary Lou Proctor of Arlington, Tex., based on a description in
a found (or maybe stolen?) notarized auction certificate. Harrison's hilariously ugly version of Proctor's "collage handmade paper object" dangled pathetically from a string across the room from the framed certificate, like
an arts and crafts project gone awry.
In Long Inexcusable Title, the artist mounted an overexposed found photo of a figure-skating little girl gliding through the wan winter sunlight in the center of a huge black, cartoon-villain's mustache. Maybe it's an allegory of vice and virtue, an ambiguous coded narrative of innocence and malevolence. Or then again, maybe not. Either way, Harrison's idiosyncratic logic shifts engagingly between playfulness and paranoia, between sense and nonsense, between the true and the faux.
MIA FINEMAN is a New York writer.
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