Mark Menjivar Shows Shelf Pity With ‘You Are What You Eat’


Mark Menjivar: ‘You Are What You Eat’

Like a psychologist, Mark Menjivar manages to get complete strangers to reveal some of their most private and personal details—namely, the contents of their refrigerators. With a background in social work and a keen interest in the way food shapes lives, he spent four years photographing the icebox identities of Americans. Shot with a 4-inch-by-5-inch view camera—equipment typically used to capture landscapes—the pictures bring a startling immediacy to those familiar assortments of perishables. Menjivar makes it clear that he didn’t rearrange anything before clicking the shutter button: What you see are candid representations of various households, each summarized by accompanying text.

A San Antonio bartender has crammed his shelves with Styrofoam takeout containers; their blank mass, rising above vacant vegetable bins, creates a kind of monument to lonely routine. Offering a sharp contrast, a lush collection of cabbage, tomatoes, and leafy greens demonstrates a couple’s eagerness to eat only local produce. Opposite, an entire grocery store seems to reside in a small cube owned by a man who once starved in a German prison camp during World War II.

In repeating the same basic form—a white rectangle filled with recognizable objects—the series of 35 images (excerpted for this tiny gallery) suggests a domestic version of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s efforts to catalog industrial structures, work that Menjivar cites as an influence. Certainly the fortuitous compositions provide plenty of purely visual appeal. But there’s also an absorbing sociological study here of well-being, occasionally touching on pathos. The fridge of a botanist—a man who says he prefers the company of flora and fauna over people—holds only a few miserable sundries and appears all but abandoned. For all the show’s variety of color and texture, this bleak sight might be the most arresting. 0.00156 acres, 114 Smith Street, Brooklyn, 917-428-3810, Through February 3.

‘Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine’

Taken from a phrase in the Doors’ acid-trip dirge “The End,” the show’s title nicely sums up this madcap selection of videos, all of which, like the song, riff on notions of finality.

In Paul Destieu’s nihilistic Fade Out, a continuous stream of sand (delivered by an unseen quarry conveyor) falls onto a drum set, rattling the cymbal for a while before completely burying everything under a giant mound—the suffocation of expressive freedom, perhaps, by industrialized conformity. Heidrun Holzfeind has assembled a viscerally appealing montage of destruction filmed at a demolition derby, an absurd smash-up that concludes with a satisfying mini-apocalypse of smoking wrecks.

A different battle takes center stage in Jaime Pitarch’s satirical gem, Invading Forces Under Fire of Bombcorn. Plastic soldiers, arranged in a circle around a toy flag, stand ready to defend their territory, which happens to lie inside a powered-up microwave oven. As the heat rises, popcorn kernels scattered at the men’s feet begin to explode like miniature artillery shells, killing the soldiers one by one, toppling the flag, and leaving, in defeat, a pile of bodies.

With dreamier effects, two other pieces suggest post-human worlds. Through laborious layering of manipulated footage, Pascual Sisto has fashioned a fantastical nighttime scene in an empty parking lot, where a dozen basketballs bounce all by themselves. In Lucia Stránaiová’s Bush (I), a lame, virtually immobile workhorse—solitary in an idyllic animal sanctuary—appears like a mythical beast as the camera revolves around its majestic, unmoving presence.

Creating an intentional cacophony, gallerist Alun Williams lets the audio for each work play at full volume, including asylum-like shrieks from Bill Burns’s recording of a children’s chorus imitating the sounds of dogs, boats, and airplanes. It’s a splendid bedlam. Parker’s Box, 193 Grand Street, Brooklyn, 718-388-2882, Through December 21.

Robert Strati: ‘Diagramming Schematic Intangibility’

At first glance, Robert Strati’s elegant drawings resemble schematics for gadgets or spaceships, but on closer inspection, they’re playful contemplations of geometry. Circles, arcs, ellipses, and parallel lines—inked in blue and intricately arranged—run the length of an entire wall in Composition of Elongations, one of several delightful technical-drafting fantasies. Exploring similar ideas in three dimensions, fragile Gego-inspired sculptures made from wire and packing tape exist in their little spaces like charming, fleeting thoughts. Robert Henry Contemporary, 56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, 718-473-0819, Through January 6.