David Humphrey, "Snowman in Love," Feb. 26-Apr. 2, 2006, at Triple Candie, 461 West 126th Street, New York, N.Y. 10027
Last month, the New York-based artist David Humphrey (b. 1955) activated the space of the non-profit Triple Candie contemporary art center in Harlem with a holiday-themed installation titled "Snowman in Love." More than 20 large, commercially manufactured inflatable snowmen were placed throughout the gallery and hung from the ceiling upside-down like giant stalactites, creating a winter wonderland of uncertain origins. The translucent nylon sculptures were lit from within, giving off a yellow glow, and adorned with hand-painted cartoon eyes, splatters of paint and such haute couture as a t-shirt featuring a graphic from the classic Milton Bradley game Operation.
Seven snowmen were arranged against one wall, stacked on their sides all the way to the ceiling in a no-strings-attached love sandwich that seemed a perfect remedy for the blustery chill outside for most of the month. On a wooden billboard-like wall was a painting featuring a horny mare humping a snowman, adding to the exhibition’s randy ice-carnival flavor. Placed prone behind the billboard was a lone snowman with a rosy glow of red paint emanating from his hind end, while mysterious red droppings were strategically placed nearby. Despite their suggestiveness they were, in fact, holly berries cut from the snowmen Humphrey couldn’t resist recycling.
Smaller acrylic paintings on canvas hung directly on the brick walls. In one, a group of differently hued snowmen cluster together, as if to signify a rainbow coalition, possibly a nod to the gallery’s Harlem location. Rap star Young Jeezy makes an appearance in another work, his arm thrown around a snow woman. The Def Jam recording artist gained a certain amount of notoriety recently from his own use of the snowman motif, in which a frowning Frosty symbolizes the ghetto cocaine dealer. This image makes an appearance in two of Humphrey’s paintings. By citing hip-hop references, another level is added to the work, bringing an urban flavor to what is definitely a suburban emblem.
Though derivative of commodity-based sculpture of 20 years ago, notably works by Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach, Humphrey’s installation has an energy all its own, and its own peculiar racial address. The snowman is a folkish figure -- no corporate "Pop Culture" ownership issues here -- that Humphrey activates as a gender-free, omni-racial character engaged in a 21st-century "l’amour fou."
With his surreal presentation of American sentimentality, Humphrey asks, "Can we all get along?" His snowmen answer with a yes so resounding that it might even require a cold shower afterwards.
CHRIS BORS is an artist based in New York.