For someone who, in her recent memoir, asked why Lana Del Rey doesn’t “just off herself,” Kim Gordon is surprisingly soft-spoken, though some of the bad-girl persona that you might expect from the front woman of Sonic Youth remains intact. Yesterday, at a walkthrough of her new show at 303 Gallery, she stretched the limits of “fashionably late” by strolling into the gallery 15 minutes after the event was scheduled to start. She also called her friend Dan Graham a “teenage girl writing about feminism” and wore a black leather jacket, which she cooly matched with a black dress and beige high heels. But more often than not, she trailed off when she spoke, her voice quieting down to a murmur as she did so.
Yesterday Gordon had the chance to discuss the show, titled “The City Is a Garden,” with Branden W. Joseph, an art-history professor at Columbia University who also edited a book of her writings. As the walkthrough began, it became clear that Joseph was going to do most of the talking. He’s an academic, and it shows. The phrase “performative aspect” came up well over ten times, but Gordon didn’t seem to want to entertain his approach.
The walkthrough began with the crumpled paintings in “The City Is a Garden,” which are exhibited on the floor. They look almost as though something living was hidden underneath these white canvases, painted with inky black letters that spell out phrases used to advertise brand new condos. They are, indeed, very expressive, as Joseph repeatedly noted. “In some ways, all of your work mimes or seems to reference expression, but always at the same time undercuts expression or does something else to expression, so it’s not necessarily that it’s false, but it is false,” Joseph said. “I think I can see that with many of the works that are here.”
“Yeah, it’s almost like a sign or description,” Gordon said.
So, next topic. Joseph asked Gordon to talk about the origins of the show, and she began by talking about gentrification and the sudden upshot of parks in New York, which, in Gordon’s estimation, began in Williamsburg. “You know, New York is a desirable city to live in,” she said. “It is a beautiful city, but at the same time, it seemed to create this environment where there were lots of condo developments being built.” The Whitney, Chelsea, and art are all bound up in this process. “It’s almost a situation for more consumerism,” she added. It went unsaid that 303 is in Chelsea.
Gordon is dissatisfied with Chelsea and the Lower East Side’s rabid gentrification, and the idea behind the show was to question what art had to do with it. A series of hedges dot the show—they look like Minimalist cubes that are beginning to sprout. (They also have little feet that, as Gordon noted, make them look “like furniture.”) “The hedges sort of represent an awareness of economic status,” Gordon said. “They’re used a lot at art events, like outside. I like the idea that the paintings become a display for how you use the hedges.”
But anyway, back to the performative aspect. The ones on the floor—were they stiff? (Before Gordon said anything, I watched someone accidentally kick one. It didn’t break. I had my answer.) Gordon confirmed that they were, and that she used resin to make them sturdy. And the unfolded, glittered ones on the wall? “They’re crumpled and painted with glitter and then dried and then pulled apart and then resined and then fiberglass on the back and then laid,” Gordon explained.
Before the talk, Gordon had mentioned to Joseph that she likes John Chamberlain, so Joseph asked her about the connection between Chamberlain’s crushed-car sculptures and Gordon’s crumpled paintings. “I was like, ‘I couldn’t make my own faux Chamberlain. Fuck it,'” Gordon said.
“They also show, in a sense, discarded things—objects or ideas that you get tired of,” Gordon continued. “Art is never seen in that category. It’s something that lasts forever. I did some variation on that. In a way, they’re almost like failed things. You’re supposed to always reach some high line of success.”
And was there some connection between Andy Warhol’s glitzy silver paintings from the ’80s and Gordon’s unfolded glitter paintings? “Yeah, I use lo-fi materials, almost lo-fi Pop,” she told Joseph. “People don’t really think about Warhol in the ’80s. Hollywood and pop culture—he fell under the spell of glamor.”
There was time for one question, and someone asked about the connection between music and her visual art. (It just couldn’t be avoided.) She murmured the answer, making it difficult for the rapidly expanding crowd to hear what she said. At the end of her answer, however, she said proudly, “It’s all in my head.”