In ‘Untitled’ - installed in the lobby of the Whitney Museum of American Art and billed by the institution as “installation-based public sculpture” - Brooklyn-based artist Jared Madere uses quasi-everyday objects (industrial fans, chandeliers, LED strip lights) and more traditional art materials (marble, cement, steel) to ask, “how do materials come to relate to one another?” Associate Curator Chris Lew’s essay includes references to the Madonna and Child, Object Oriented Ontology, and the movie Transformers: Age of Extinction, ripe with both a sincere interest in new work and a noted effort in relaying (and, to some extent, defending) said interest to the recently-revamped museum’s patrons and wider audience . While Lew’s references are insightful and encourage reflective engagements with Madere’s seemingly chaotic offering, the immediate affect of the work is physical and sensory, prompting initial material enquiry and consideration of the work’s own internal logic, before connecting the dots to its historical precedents and contemporary influences.
‘Untitled’ (2015) is loud. Isolated in a well-lit room (formally titled the John R. Eckel Jr. Foundation Gallery) and separated from the lobby by insulated double-doors, the work is granted permission to do as it pleases. Upon opening the doors, the sound of fans - exacerbated by the echo of the enclosed space - can be heard buffeting various pieces of fabric, whose whipping adds another layer of audio to the whirring soundscape. In addition to the immediacy of the sound, one first encounters the physical entity of the work as a whole composition. It is just small enough to be seen in its entirety from the gallery’s entrance, but large enough to become all-encompassing once one begins navigating through the installation. Streams of red fabric, cut to various lengths and widths, and in various shades and patterns, billow outward from the fans, reaching towards the walls, floor, ceiling, and viewers; while smaller scraps of differently coloured fabrics (debris, perhaps, from ripped scarves and t-shirts) are attached to thin lines of twine, which connect to different points around the room, creating a starring effect with an identified nucleus.
Beneath, beside, and in-between these fraying fabrics are an eclectic collection of altered objects. The first to be encountered is a circular, stone fountain from which a stream of LED strip lights, pulsing with rainbow colours, shoot upward. These lights are not shaped to mimic the look of water spraying from the fountain base; but, instead, rise static and vertical. Their liveliness comes, not from their shape, but from the brightness of their colours and their erratic transitions from red to orange to yellow, pink, and blue. Emanating from the stone base, they resemble a fountain just enough to trigger recognition and association, but without ever sacrificing the integrity of their original forms. In this way, they are no longer LED strip lights, nor are they water spraying from a fountain, but exist as a hybrid of the two, a newly constructed relation between disparate materials.
More of these transitioning objects appear as one continues to circle the work. A steel chandelier adorned with teardrop shaped crystals and wrapped in strips of red silk lies on the floor, as if having fallen from a ceiling fixture, though there is little sign of damage. The silk is tied in bows around parts of the chandelier, visually bandaging it without fully restoring it from its lopsided and somewhat sad state. Unlit, on the floor, and tied with bows, it isn’t the chandelier it once was, but retains an essence of its former glory. Other light fixtures, removed from their original purposes, are also included. Metal lanterns hang on the twine clotheslines and, moving side to side in the fans’ blow, reflect the glow of the LEDs in a manner more decorative than functional. Rather than emitting light, the lanterns are caught and mutated as material in Madere’s manipulation.
The anchor point of the installation, at certain points tethered to the chandelier via the silk ribbons and red fabrics, is a tall, textured, green-blue sculpture (which Lew refers to as the Madonna/Mother in his essay), carrying a smaller, thin, red wire sculpture (Child). It alludes to figuration, but is ambiguous enough to be read in purely formal and material terms—a misshapen cross or tubular piece of coral, an abstract, sculptural object. It is the installation’s highest point, its proudest moment. And yet, like the rest of Madere’s objects, it resists direct representation and remains aloof, teasing a multitude of interpretations.
Madere takes his chosen objects, which are not quite common enough to be considered ‘everyday,’ but familiar enough to be instantly accessible, and employs them, not for their original purposes, but as materials for the beginnings of new object-based relations with legible “art” forms, such as sculpture and textiles. The slightness of his interventions is important; all individual components are still ultimately recognizable, but have been repurposed. They are not yet imbued with entirely new meaning, but are on their way towards such a transformation. Madere holds the objects, and by proxy the viewers, in limbo, questioning how we might read a sculptural installation that is at once just a collection of mismatched industrial and decorative items, and an anthropomorphic, almost ‘breathing,’ figurative totem.
Lew, Christopher Y. “Somehow Somewhere No One Is Wrong.” The Whitney Museum of American Art. Accessed 10 November 2015. http://whitney.org/Essays/JaredMadere.