“Still” seems like a paradoxical title for Ryan’s McNamara’s solo exhibition at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, which the artist has set up as a carnivalesque Sears portrait studio. The show is part of the artist’s ongoing inquiry into the quiet bourgeois contemplation that the white-cube gallery typically demands. “When you are looking at art in Chelsea, you go into autopilot,” McNamara says. “Your movement is choreographed and you turn your brain off. My hope is that I can break people out of that.”
Viewers enter the gallery through a cardboard arch hung with streamers and move into a room set up with colorful backdrops, like forest scenes and abstract patterns. Viewers must sift through ephemera—costumes, wigs, frames, props and knickknacks—arranged around the studio in piles and on hangers and pose with their objects of choice while the artist takes a photograph.
Objects include, at first glance, a white sweater with a clown head, strings of fake flowers, golden angel wings, a Hannibal Lecter leather mask, and a sheet of blue cellophane paper: viewers are encouraged to step outside of their inhibitions, and even to act kind of silly. “A lot of the success of the work will depend on the people who come in,” McNamara told A.i.A. “I’m very interested in this chance element.”
The resulting images are posted online and emailed to the viewer. In a back room, McNamara prints out outrageous selections on colored paper, and uses them to decoupage sculptural objects, which he will exhibit in an emptied out gallery at the end of the show. Practiced by Renaissance artisans, Victorian housewives, and puffy-haired Midwestern moms, decoupage has been long associated with decorative rather than high art. In McNamara’s hands, the craft is anointed with fabulousness, and used to transform objects like lions heads and wig stands.
I wanted the final work had to have something to do with the exchange of objects,” says McNamara of the relationship between his performance and sculpture work. “Also, in the process, I’ll become a decoupage master.”