Remember high school and the Byzantine manners of its many cliques and cultures? The cool kids who had the latest fashions; the surly but painfully cute and annoyingly naïve rebels who promised some kind of ill-defined social revolution; the goth kids who spun a dervish whirl down the halls in trails of black; and everyone else who stood back and surreptitiously observed the shenanigans? The artists and works that Scott Hug assembled in this large, fun, and wry summer group show, just concluded at John Connelly Presents, play like a collective of like-minded young kids who communicate with each other in the same visual code and whose interests neatly converge.
Many of the artists have collaborated previously with Hug and have appeared in K48, an influential arts magazine that Hug has published since 2000. Its size resembles a collection of inconspicuous and unassuming postcards, a keepsake diary, or a pocket Bible; and the selection of artists, like Lucky DeBellevue, Terence Koh, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Banks Violette, Scott Treleaven, reads like a roll call of New York art world cream. Koh, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, and Treleaven reappear in Kamp 48 and their presence confers a cache that could easily be criticized for its cliquishness if the intelligence of their contributions didn’t shine through.
A common theme that emerges is an investigation into the public’s concept of nature either as a utopian haven or exploitable political cause. Flags and banners show up in Shay Nowick’s high-pitched slogan, “Protest Banner I,” a black scrim of fabric upon which is written in white craft-like letters the youthful screed, “I Can’t Figure It Out.” On the wall as a background to this piece is Hug and Michael Magnan’s untitled work that comprises a Xerox wallpaper image of a chain link fence that brings to mind a revolutionary rushing of the barricades. The simplicity of the works, the homespun quality of the banner, and the do-it-yourself reproductive ease of the fence betray a knowing sense of fun, a poke at those who co-opt environmental causes to express alienation and isolation in a culture obsessed with products and status.
In A.L. Steiner’s c-print, “Untitled (trail of loathsome slime),” a rowboat is stuck in the sickly green and viscous ooze contaminated water riverbank. The image is double-edged—as a portrait of a local environmental catastrophe it signals indignation and ire; as a beautiful picture, it resembles the perfected glossiness of photo directed imagery often found on the cover of national newsmagazines.
The exhibition’s coup de grace is the dark installation in the gallery’s dark lit, plush carpeted back room back room. While the room is chock-a-block with so much work, that cannot be listed here, dominating the room is Dominic McGill’s “Orchestra of Fear,” a large tent covered with text decrying capitalism and corporate monopoly. Messily scattered within and without are a young cub’s necessities—a small battery operated TV which screens “Porkys,” a scout’s handbook, and enough pseudo homoerotic books of young bucks that could provide hours, if not days of masturbatory fantasies.
The installation is a funny homage to popular culture’s obsession with youthful innocence, its misguided belief that the great outdoors is a benign force, lacking real danger of sex or snakebites. Hug has constructed a virtual campground, a Boy Scout’s inner sanctum where his lurking fear of nature must be tamed and his secret desire for other boys must be ignored. All that’s missing to make the spell complete is the smell of sweaty pubescent skin, the occasional fragrant fart, and the comforting scent of burning leaves or crackling marshmallows.