“GARDEN”

Art, Contemporary art
4 out of 5 stars
Melissa Brown, Barataria, 2019
Photograph: Courtesy Shrine and Sargent’s Daughters

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

In a moment as evidently corrupt as our own, what room, if any, is there left for innocence? That seems to be the question posed by “GARDEN,” a rambling pastoral of a show at conjoined galleries Sargent’s Daughters and Shrine NYC. The exhibition evokes the Biblical Eden as it offers meditations on prelapsarian themes by 37 participants who represent a mix of self-taught talents and art-school grads. They mostly share a thrift-store/naive/primitivist aesthetic, though one that vacillates between irony and sincerity (or ersatz and authentic), depending on artist.

To make its point, “GARDEN” has been mounted installation-style as a sort of tacky greensward with walls abutted by curving patches of astro turf staked with “Keep Off The Grass” signs. This arrangement, which is also hung salon-style, is meant to echo the so-called “yard shows” of African-American folk art that once flourished across the rural South, and several names associated with the practice—Hawkins Bolden, Thornton Dial and William Hawkins—have pieces here.

It’s an interesting idea, though it makes the works compete for attention that they don’t always get. Still, some pieces manage to shine through. Austrian outsider artist Leopold Strobl presents small, impeccably rendered landscapes that are in the midst of being inexplicably gobbled up by inky blobs—including one resembling the banana-shaped spaceship from Arrival. Among the contributors with formal training, Mexican artist Gabriel Rico stand outs with his tableau of a beehive-headed skeleton, chillaxing in a folding chair as a rubber sidewinder lies at his feet. Also notable are Katherine Bernhardt’s portrait of Yoda, painted in colors running down the canvas like rain on a windshield; and Melissa Brown’s depiction of a forest slaved to social media, as shadowy figures take selfies along a hiking trail.

Arguably, the show’s overarching metaphor—arcadia as the contested ground between purity and debasement—could likewise be applied to the current battle for America’s soul, as one constitutional norm after the next gets trampled in the grass. The serpent, it would seem, has left paradise for the White House.

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