It seemed as if Orchard Street had been struck by disaster. Martin Roth’s “Untitled (debris)” transformed this gallery’s two levels into a wasteland of sorts, resembling a recently demolished building. At the same time, it could have been viewed as the site of a soon-to-be luxury condo. In context, though, Roth presented the grimmer reality of how many buildings are reduced to rubble. The misshapen chunks of ashen concrete masonry, complete with discolored sand, were culled from near the Syria-Turkey border.
Roth heightened this sense of disorientation by adding 25 brightly colored parakeets that mainly perched on the gallery’s exposed piping. These new tenants, rescued from an online shelter, were at once cheerful, their shimmering plumage contrasting with the desolation below, and ominous, as if threatening to swoop down at any moment in Hitchcockian style.
Downstairs, ten croaking bullfrogs rescued from a Chinatown supermarket swam about the flooded basement, illuminated by a photographer’s red light. While seemingly playful and light, this room—when observed from the safe distance of the stairs—furthered Roth’s interest in presenting dichotomy. In these installations, Roth created uneasy-making spaces that weren’t at all as they seemed.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 85.