For thirty years, Yuji Agematsu has been collecting garbage from the streets of New York and preserving his haul in museological displays. He bypasses the bulky stuff of Combines; each thing he takes could fit in a pocket. The subject matter could be static or unremarkable in other hands, but Agematsu has an eye for the vivid, synthetic colors of wadded chewing gum and plastic scraps, and for the feathered shapes that shredded shopping bags take when caught in a fence. At Miguel Abreu’s Eldridge Street location, strips of plastic and soiled twists of tape are pinned to the wall or in boxes like butterflies in an entomologist’s lab. In the central installation, bits of trash are gathered in the cellophane prisms used to wrap cigarette packs. Combinations of colors and textures conjure a little scene in each one: a cigarette butt is a spire, a fluffed bit of lint takes the shape of a charging stallion, a glittering candy wrapper twists like a golden serpent. These miniatures are arranged on plexiglass shelves, organized, like a calendar, in twelve boxes, documenting a year of garbage-gathering walks.
There is something of the pre-modern museum in the encyclopedic range of Agematsu’s appetite, and in the ambiguity of the resulting displays, which could be either specimens or sculptures. Yet the synthetic quality of the materials and the tarry asphalt stains locate them far from the Renaissance man’s cabinet. Brecht said that the palace of culture is built with dog shit; Agematsu’s personal world is both more modest and more surprising—a Wunderkammer filled with trash. —Brian Droitcour
Pictured: Detail of Yuji Agematsu’s zip; 01.01.16 … 12.31.16, 2016, mixed media in cigarette cellophane wrappers on wood backed acrylic shelves, 856¼ by 31¾ by 5¼ inches overall. Courtesy Miguel Abreu, New York. Photo Thomas Müller.