Press releases can be revealing. They can be condescending, didactic and gratuitous. They can be incredibly insightful and illuminating. They can be expository, and they can be poetic. To announce his first exhibition at Michael Benevento, Christian Herman Cummings decided to offer only two brief quotes: One from him about the art of his alter ego, Miriam Hanks-Todd, whose persona he claims to dream through; the other from Hanks-Todd about Cummings and his art.
This conceit is a curious one that Cummings (and Hanks-Todd) has (have) developed into complex, humorously lyrical works that employ surprisingly simple materials. Cummings (as Hanks-Todd) describes the work as a “prosthetic for a self that isn’t there.” While there was a pseudonymous “collaborator” at play here, there was no doubt about the strong sense of identity present in every scrawled drawing, each repetitive molded frame, the two gnarly yet seductive tables, and the purposeful alterations to Benevento’s two Sunset Boulevard spaces.
The narrower of the galleries had a range of drawings and sculptures, most of which hybridize the two mediums. The small drawings, framed in “prophylactic” rubber-molded windows with raised blinds, are made using cheap, ubiquitous materials: likely Bic pens and paper tablets found at office supplies stores. Some of the surfaces are inscribed with phrases: “every time you step on me, I get more stuck to you.” Others have crudely rendered figurative drawings, such as a Trojan Horse giving a man a blow job, filling the beast’s insides with stick figures, with the contextually witty phrase “Last Supper” looming above.
Mystically irreverent text abounded elsewhere, with loose art historical references in larger, more hectic and cryptic works on paper. Inflated Drawing 5 (2014) includes a partially sketched replica of Robert Smithson’s Museum of the Void. Smithson’s 1967 text Some Void Thoughts On Museums begins: “History is a facsimile of events held together by finally biographical information,” and concludes: “The museum spreads its surfaces everywhere, and becomes an untitled collection of generalizations that mobilize the eye.” In his oil transfer drawings, Cummings appropriates a technique popularized by Gauguin as a way of faxing “biographical information” and “generalizations” in order to “mobilize the eye.” Despite all the insider information, it was this moment—where self-awareness met self-realization—that Cummings’s peculiar perspective truly started to take hold. The absurd and severe content of both the small framed drawings and larger allusive ones collided in two Pepto Bismol-pink plywood tables, with jokes and jolts appearing on every surface.
In the wider space just a few yards down the street, there were two architectural interventions and the pronounced echo of one. Crack—a diagonal wall carving, filled with Aqua-Resin and wall patching compound—scarred the main wall, while Nail Marks 1 and Nail Marks 2 faced each other from opposite walls. Made from the same materials as Crack, these pointed explicitly to the exhibition title, “Multiple Inversions in Multiple Versions,” and Cummings’s manic play of one space off the other. On their own, these ghostlike gestures appear sinister, but when contrasted with the bold-faced text, imagery and objects a few doors down, they become more psychologically playful. This flip was a fitting move for an artist with an alter ego. But which room was the dream?