The artist Carol Bove, who grew up in Berkeley in the 1960s and now lives in Brooklyn, had a busy spring, with a solo exhibition at the new Kimmerich gallery in Tribeca and work in group shows at Andrea Rosen, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Half Gallery and other spaces too numerous and far-flung to mention. Bove’s appeal lies in her ability to impart sang-froid (coolness) to bits of found detritus -- precious detritus like coral, shells, driftwood and feathers -- thus rendering them as specific objects. What results is a kind of implication of life, what Bove has described as "seeing through time with objects."
Knowingly, Bove produces her art in editions, which can be as large as 35, and yet each piece is unique. One fairly small example, Untitled (2009), consists of a rectangular bronze armature, like a 3D frame, which surrounds a plain piece of driftwood pierced by a rusty nail with an attached scrap of feather. This is an assemblage by an artist who wants to have it all: rationality, nature and the cast-offs of human culture, a cerebral collection of junk, infected with sinister humor, that both invites and repels interpretation.
Bove likes to play with the delicate and the feminine, as well. In Woman (2010), a peacock feather is mounted on a thin black, right-angled scaffold, its eye contemplating you with Surrealist aplomb. Like shells and pieces of driftwood, these feathers are a regular element in Bove’s badass tableaux, oddments that hint at exotic fantasia.
Yet Bove always pulls you back into the cold, as in her much exhibited "Harlequin" boxes, free-standing and human-sized, made of clear thick Plexi covered with expanded sheet metal. That diamond-patterned mesh gives the "Harlequins" their name, of course, in reference to Picasso’s costumed circus performers of more than a century ago.
Cleverly, the "Harlequin" boxes send the cube -- the emblem of geometry, signifying our mastery of the world -- backwards in time, stripping away a layer of meaning at each step: taking the light out of Larry Bell, the solidity out of Judd, the two dimensions out of Mondrian, the fervor out of Malevich and finally the clown out of Picasso.
At Rosen, Bove’s Harlequin shared space with sculpture by Sterling Ruby, while at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel she was recruited to stage an installation of works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Faced with the abject parodies of one and the forlorn elegies of the other, it can seem that there’s no such thing as perfection. Carol Bove refutes that every day.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).