When a ‘Tender Collision’ Becomes an Artist’s ‘Situation’


“I didn’t want to feel railroaded into always making big things in relation to a big Chelsea space,” explains Jessica Stockholder. So, with a little help from her friends, she’s created a manic installation of not-so-large pieces that does what her colorful, wacky work has always done. It orchestrates a tender collision between dumb materials, unlikely objects, and incompatible contexts, between the white cube of the gallery and the domestic chaos of the home, and between slapdash improvisation and old-fashioned pictorial structure. She prefers to call it a “situation.”

From Mel Bochner and Mary Heilmann to Rochelle Feinstein and Fabian Marcaccio, all of the 39 people she invited to become part of “Table Top Sculpture” said yes. They picked their works, and Stockholder installed them salon-style. Each piece, including her own scrappy constructions, retains its autonomy. But as one observer noted, “They’ve been Stockholderized.” Apart from adding other people’s art, she does nothing much different than she’s always done. But since the show looks less like a series of still lifes than a discombobulated living room, her parlor tricks (with rug remnants, yellow rope, pink fuzz, pots, lamps, end tables, and plastic kitchen stuff) mesh with the collaborative sensibility of the new kids on the scene.

Stockholder, however, is an artist, not a curator, and her show has less in common with teenage-bedroom group antics or the communal vanishing act of Venice’s Utopia Station than meets the eye. Her mad-housewife fusions of disposable objects, hysterical cheeriness, and chaotic muddle resort to formal abstraction. They’re stealth compositions, with supersonic echoes of cubism, surrealism, Albers, and abstract expressionism. That’s what shocks now. So does the fact that the classy mid-century Herman Miller marshmallow settee (squaring off against a homely upholstered sofa) isn’t a Franz West. Stockholder’s slyest comment on class, art, and commodity is this one pricey real thing.