Jessi Reaves’s New Body of Work
At Jessi Reaves’s current exhibition, at Bridget Donahue, New York, the artist’s second at the gallery, an architectural intervention interrupts the even sweep of the gallery floor: a low platform carpeted in synthetic brown. Stairs provide access to its textured surface, as well as define a rectangular recess in its middle: a pit or depression in the image of a tiered public amphitheater or the domestic interiors of the 1970s. (In the latter, such a design implies reclining bodies, pillowy objects, the utopian imagined futures of private social space, and the briefness of the decade in which these social futures were in this way stylized and enacted.)
Reaves’s carpeted landscape adds history and drama and topography to the individual works it stages: a group of nine discrete pieces of furniture sculpture (shoe rack, chairs, shelves). Where previous presentations of Reaves’s work — such as in the 2017 edition of the Whitney Biennial, or the 57th Carnegie International — featured soft and upholstered surfaces, here the edges are mostly hard, exacting, enclosed. Glass, wicker, wood, and Plexi host a repetition of fungal, sandcastley forms: horns, conches, sconces, and flora executed in a clay-like mixture of sawdust and wood glue.
Among these sculptures is Everyday, I don’t. Standing container (2019). In it, sections of Plexiglas are joined to form a patchwork basin. Mounted on metal legs, the receptacle is draped in a textile whose print bears graphic renderings of belts in an orange-and-brown palette. As with the carpeted pit, we think of the 1970s. Where the soft surface of the fabric figures abstracted patterns of hardware, or suggests hardware without producing it, we might think of the endless plasticity of clothing, like furniture, to pervert and reconstitute its own elements of style.
Everyday, I don’t: it’s a title that recalls the refusal that Anne Boyer treats in her essay “No,” which begins: “History is full of people who just didn’t.” “Some days my only certain we is the certain we that didn’t, that wouldn’t, whose bodies or spirits wouldn’t go along,” Boyer writes. One might think of refusal, too, in what Reaves calls an “adolescent energy” that graces a number of the exhibition’s works. It comes across in icons of cheap or feminine taste: a pink zebra motif painted onto the surface of Red Eyelashes (2019), or the miniature hearts carved into colored Plexiglas in Take it from someone who’s been there before, cabinet with heart doors (2019) and Blue heart shelf (2019). The latter piece is affixed with beaded strings of stars and moons, the excerpt of a cheaply manufactured curtain. Of decoration, Lisa Robertson writes (in the introduction to her book of poems The Weather), “we like a touch of kitsch in each room to juice up or pinken the clean lines of the possible.” I see in Reaves’s borrowing from the markers of teenage space a similar kind of juicing up, of pinkening.
At the front of the gallery, a structure of sticks and Plexiglass is enveloped in a custom garment of sheer yellows, both warm and cool. Walking up was getting into discipline, nyc stick shelf (2019) clothes the shelf’s protrusions in fitted sleeves, with zippers offering the possibility of undress. We’re reminded that despite their abstractions, here in Reaves’s sculptures as in the world, furniture shares with clothing an essential and inflexible referent: the body.
Text by Tess Edmonson.
All images copyright Jessi Reaves, courtesy of the artist and Bridget Donahue, NYC. The exhibition II will be on view until May 12, 2019.