Valerie Hegarty creates paintings, sculptures and installations that comment on the deteriorating state of American society. Celebrated for her realistic renditions of weathered walls and damaged artworks that allude to childhood memories, short stories and bits of Americana, the Brooklyn artist puts fictitious objects to the test of fire and water—and occasionally guns, earthquakes and woodpeckers—to consider how ruined things convey a sense of tragedy.
Five new sculptures and two fresh wall works transform Marlborough Chelsea’s pristine upstairs gallery into a destroyed den of poetic possibilities. Headless George Washington with Table (Lansdowne Portrait)—cobbled together from foam core, digital printouts and paint—presents a horrific reimagining of one of Gilbert Stuart’s famous portraits of our first President as collateral damage from the British torching of the White House during the War of 1812. Torn asunder and melted onto a charred, smashed table in front of it, the painting of Washington evokes the deep fissures in our body politic.
Shipwrecked Armoire with Barnacles presents an encrusted remnant of our colonial past, apparently rescued from the bottom of the sea, while Sinking Ship (Large Clipper Ship) depicts a noble vessel foundering out of its canvas support to point, prow first, to the floor below. Rug with Grass consists of a rotted Empire-style carpet sprouting weeds, suggesting that something new, perhaps, can grow from a bygone era. It’s the one moment of hope in Hegarty’s captivating display of devastation.—Paul Laster