A Hushed Elegy

'Nina in Position' is a jumble on paper but lucid in person

Artists Space is suffering from verbiage bulimia. Curator Jeffrey Uslip splashes in puddles of academicism—his sprawling statement for the group exhibition "Nina in Position" finger-paints with rhetoric like "legibility of lack," "post-sculpturalism," and "Left Melancholia." Gag. It's like bingeing on all 122 volumes of the journal October and then purging them on Artists Space marketing material.

He should stop talking and continue doing—because while much of the work is individually unexceptional, as a whole the show beautifully interrogates cultural and environmental indifference and its obvious consequences. More akin to an elegy than a diatribe, the exhibition unravels with a hushed post-post-minimalist aesthetic, heavy with the specters of Andres Serrano, Anish Kapoor, and Glenn Ligon, among others.

In Anya Gallaccio's delicate Red on White, a square bed of salt frames a half-gallon of inky red blood spread thinly between two large panes of glass—a beautiful abstraction of violence. Similarly menacing, Michelle Lopez's Crux, a twitching tree of prosthetic limbs, plastic, and broken sycamore branches, haphazardly welds the machine-made and the organic, with none of the integrity of either.

The most devastating work may be Haim Steinbach's Untitled (elephant footstools, elephant skulls), which consists of a tusk-less elephant skull and five elephant-foot stools resting on wedged geometric shelving. Comically capped in zebra hide, the footstools are horrifying. Elephants are desired objects because they are so rare, and so rare because they're desired (and conveniently commodified).

While the strength of "Nina in Position" is its modesty, there are dull moments. Mary Kelly's time-lapse photographs of dancing women with illuminated genitals are pretty but blasé. Wade Guyton has polished a U-shaped steel column to a reflective sheen, but it's so minimalist it's boring. Despite some yawns, though, this exhibition's critique of the body politic is on the whole a delicate, understated treat—rhetoric aside.

 
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