Following a solo presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York last year, Jared Madere’s solo gallery debut comprised a selection of discrete objects and photographs (all but one work 2016) that provided a marked contrast to the large-scale installations that established his reputation as an exciting emerging artist. These installations, which featured things like refrigerators, gigantic photographs pasted on walls, and piles of salt on the gallery floor, seemed to physically consume the spaces in which they were displayed. Such performative excess has been integral to Madere’s practice, and the most successful works in the gallery exhibition tapped into that impulse within the artist’s new, more restrained parameters.
Take the monstrous goddess, from 2015, stationed at the threshold of the show. The eight-foot-tall figure is a composition of various digitally manipulated found images that, recalling the cardboard displays used to promote Hollywood blockbusters, has been printed onto a cutout piece of stainless steel. With multiple heads, a bizarre party dress, scaly skin, and eight protruding limbs (or tentacles?) from which assorted weaponry dangles, the figure blurs any and all points of reference, alluding equally to Hindu deities, video games, science fiction, and stock photography, among a plethora of other sources.
In the main space were a number of floor-based sculptures called the “Toddlers,” each of which consists of a “boy” and a “girl” Mylar balloon connected by a tube recalling an umbilical cord. Printed onto each of the balloons is a grainy, oversaturated image of a child with a crustaceanlike body—the girls smoking cigarettes, and the boys sporting giant erect penises. The tubes are greenish yellow and meant to signify urine flowing between the two figures, but in color and texture also resemble weed. While the cartoonish balloons invoke Jeff Koons, Madere does not share Koons’s concern for immediate legibility. Both artists, however, delight in the art object as a perverse meeting point for clashing cultural registers.
The other works on view lacked the compelling strangeness of the monster figure and the “Toddlers.” The “Lavender Towers” are pyrelike constructions that combine materials including reeds, real and fake flowers, and shower curtains, and that emit a lavender vapor that permeated the exhibition space. The photo works were eight glossy prints depicting CGI-rendered snowflakes against blurry stock images of mundane domestic settings and landscapes.
Accompanying the exhibition was a press release written by gallerist David Lewis. In it, Lewis frames Madere’s practice as a challenge to the “previous discursive regime,” whose members (Lewis doesn’t name them) made logocentric art that depended on theoretical buttressing. While this previous regime’s work, according to Lewis, relied on high/low games, insider references, and discourse on the conditions of image production and circulation, Madere’s work is sensory-driven and focused on aesthetics. It’s true that there has been a recent turn among younger artists, in New York in particular, toward personal, tactile, expressive, and relatively theory-free work. But although these artists largely avoid their predecessors’ discursive approach, many of them—particularly Madere—encode referentiality and intertexuality directly into the aesthetic of their works.