The title of Christian Holstad’s fifth show at this gallery, “The World’s Gone Beautiful,” referred to Malvina Reynolds’s song about a world that shows its best face only when threatened with extinction. If “What will you wear to your funeral?” is the song’s implicit question, it is doubly compelling for Holstad, who consistently addresses the relationship of identity to overlapping representations of commerce and sexuality.
Holstad’s new sculptures (all works 2009) include handmade versions of shopping carts, the bulky vehicles of middle-class acquisition that are also a desperate means of salvage for the transient and homeless. Holstad crafted and sewed the vaguely Oldenbergian carts to scale out of reflective fabric and lamé tubing, and draped them over pedestals or hooks hung low on the wall. The five carts that were shown are each colored to match the retail logos hand-stitched onto their saggy handles—“Target,” “Home Depot,” “Whole Foods.” All but one are called The Road to Hell is Paved, a title more moralizing than the seductively glossy, loosely slouching works themselves.
Waste, consumption’s twin, was treated in four collages perversely called portraits. Made of embroidered fabric and paper, the collages feature landscapes with trash cans in the foregrounds, each can filled with eccentric personal items meant to represent an individual. The overturned wastebasket in Portrait #3 (upside down can with prosciutto and melon, a bra and an empty toilet paper roll) was filled with the titular elements (the bra is humorously large, even matronly) as well as a teddy bear and a dog collar. It’s unclear where on the timeline of apocalypse these portraits fall—and whether the discarded objects are to be regarded as evidence of guilt, gauges of value or redemptive sacrifices. Included in another collage is a pair of 2(x)ist briefs, a reference Holstad has used throughout his career as shorthand for the insidious demand for creative consumerism in many subcultures (here, gay male). In the background of each collage is an empty playground, a nostalgic allusion to childhood play unburdened by the responsibilities of conscientious economic behavior.
The strongest tension of the exhibition was between Holstad’s embrace of good old American craft and his evident alarm over the apocalyptic cycle of acquisition and waste. During the run of the show, Holstad pulled the gallery’s steel security gate down and set up a spotlight with no subject, so that Daniel Reich’s storefront appeared both closed (though the entry door remained unblocked) and primed for theatrical engagement. In the face of an economic downturn, Holstad seems as troubled by art’s complicity in wasteful behavior as he seems committed to it, to the end.
Photo: Christian Holstad: The Road to Hell is Paved (Whole Foods), 2009, vinyl, reflective fabric and tubing; at Daniel Reich.