Carol Bove proves once again that the sexiest part of the body is the mind (especially hers) in her brilliant installation, "Plants & Mammals," on view Apr. 15-Sept. 10, 2009, at the New York Horticultural Society.
The society is an oasis on the 13th floor of a modest building on West 37th Street. It consists of a reading room bathed in morning light and a series of valuable books on plants, which Bove expertly uses as the matrix of her show. Like Borges, Bove is all about knowledge best expressed intuitively. Here she creates a sanctuary out of objects that appear to be found, but are in fact rigorously assembled and arranged.
Bove's altar consists of a piece of driftwood hanging like a rifle from a chain, a delicate netting made of silver, a metal vulvation which pulsates in the imagination like a feminine John Chamberlain and two peacock feathers arranged like a pair of spectacles. She has also produced an accordion book of 20th-century daffodil varieties chronicled by the horticulturist Janine Lariviere, some of whose live plants grace the rear of the show.
Finally, as a way of introducing the animal part of her meditation, Carol has produced a print memorial tribute to Marilyn Monroe, which reads in part, "Marilyn today has passed the dark barrier. . . . Farewell, perfect mammal." Bove's show presents her preoccupations as a throwback to the Byronic conceit that the world is alien from the pathetic fallacy of our romantic perceptions, and she has doubts about the safe harbor of the intellect as well.
What we find and cherish is arbitrary and is also art. She has suspended her doubts long enough to produce this wonderful little show, which you can visit after throwing your body into the new pedestrian spaces millimeters from the trucks and taxis in Times Square, another tendentious installation, but that is a separate story.
"Carol Bove with Janine Lariviere, Plants & Mammals, Apr. 15-Sept. 10, 2009, at the Horticultural Society of New York, 148 West 37th Street, New York, N.Y. 10018.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).