New York-based artist K8 Hardy’s latest offering, the show “Kate” (through Dec. 22), couldn’t differ much more from her last major appearance in this city. That previous outing took the form of a full-scale punk fashion show, staged as part of the 2012 Whitney Biennial in conjunction with a series of photographs. The current exhibition is a low-budget, handmade, slightly abject affair, consisting mostly of wooden figurative sculptures, many of them “wearing” found materials.
This morning, she visited the show, at Reena Spaulings Fine Art, with a few invited guests. Exhibiting a singular style in white-polka-dotted bluejeans, striped sweater, furry hat and blue-framed sunglasses, she looked very much the downtown version of the fashionista who staged the Biennial’s runway extravaganza.
“The whole selfie phenomenon,” said the artist, “really made me look at my work differently, and re-assess it,” she said, referring to the body of work, much of it costumed self-portraiture, that brought her early notice. The “Position” series, displayed at Spaulings in 2009, showed the artist in various wigs and getups, drawing comparison to Cindy Sherman.
“I wasn’t compelled to take photos for this show,” she said, standing in the gallery among her new wooden figures. Now, she said, referring to the smartphone phenomenon, “Everyone is photographing themselves. I’m a poser, but now even kids surpass me in this regard.” The only photograph in the current show is an image of an iPad displaying a shot of the artist’s naked crotch. Ur-Selfie refers to Courbet’s Origin of the World, filtered through modern image-making devices—according to a press release, it’s shot with an iPhone, re-photographed with an iPad and shot again on film. It’s the show’s only self-portrait, though the exhibition’s title suggests a selfie in the aggregate.
Several of the sculptures in the new show are life-size, spindly figures, clad in disparate materials like a bungee cord, a bra strap or, in the case of Faerie Humyn, a deflated balloon found on the beach at Fire Island. They are lit from beneath with lights that cycle through different hues. Despite formal differences, there are through lines with her previous works, the artist opined. “The sculptures are very performative,” she said, “especially with the lights on them, that change in color like the filters on a phone app.”
Some examples are naked of clothing, wearing only light-hued paint. “Painting the sculptures was pretty angsty for me,” Hardy admitted. “Painters can be pretty precious about their medium.” Affecting a playful pomposity, she added, “Painters feel like, ‘Stay away from my 10,000 years of painting language!'”
When a visitor pointed out similarities to modernist sculpture in her stripped-down forms, the artist declined to specify any particular influences.
“To make the work,” she said, “I had to shut off all the reference books and figure out later who I was copying. Someone compared this work to Joel Shapiro, and I was, like, ‘I’ll have to Google that guy! I never heard of him.'”
Looking around the room, she was asked what it might be like at the gallery during off-hours. “It’s a disco party at night when no one is here,” she said. “It’s a bunch of posers.”