“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” Dave J. Bermingham’s first solo show at Alpha Gallery derives its title from a musical of the same name. The musical’s plot revolves around an unexceptional woman harboring latent psychic powers. After undergoing hypnosis, the protagonist retrieves memories of a fascinating past life, inspiring her to embark upon an extraordinary future. Likewise, Bermingham transforms everyday objects from banal to extraordinary, extending a sentiment best expressed by Oscar Wilde: “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.” Bermingham works from the same premise, privileging the objects populating the coeval domestic landscape with qualities worthy of the most exalted type of aesthetic contemplation.
But the landscape mined by Bermingham is not necessarily contemporary. Instead, he looks towards a past era and uses materials of nostalgic significance--termed by the artist as found domestic objects. The trays, plates, bowls, cups, and even doorknobs that populate the show look like family heirlooms, but apparently those valued only temporarily. At some point in time, someone consigned their grandmother’s treasured so-and-so to obsolescence. Salvaging once useful but now discarded objects, Bermingham skillfully contrives a series of situations that imprint permanence onto the otherwise forgotten.
And what pleasure can be found within that immutability! The extravagant assemblages in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” are designed to seduce. Undoubtedly the product of a huge amount of artistic labor, the exhibition possesses the appearance of effortless glamor. This is perhaps the gesture of theatre at work, theatre being a form of artifice that ennobles the ordinary, everyday, and commonplace. The Occhi (Italian for “eyes”) series (all 2017) present a delightful topography of sensuous domestic surfaces. Hung in groups according to the dominant color represented within each form, the Occhi series consist of stacks of tableware anchored by door knobs that crescendo out from walls into conical structures. Each element within the assemblage reflects the sumptuousness of the whole, meaning a plate is not simply a plate. Gilded rims, painted multi-color vegetal motifs, and low-relief sculpture deviate from the utilitarian function of plate as object, imbuing plate as creative expression with traits designed to seduce. Occhi #17 and Occhi #19, related to the Occhi series and shown adjacent, incorporate the most visually irresistible of materials--reflective metal. We can see ourselves within these trays and plates, and, like a mirror, it is difficult to pass in front of these Occhi and not look for yourself within the object. Who wouldn’t want to possess something that so effortlessly reinforces bodily and psychic presence?
Desire, in one shape or another, permeates all of the objects in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Groper, Gold-Tipped, One Eye (all 2016) share a teetotum form and balance cautiously on the floor, their postures displaying a playful precarity that could provoke the undisciplined art lover to even touch the object. UnCover, CoverOver, and DisCover (all 2017) elicit a similar impulse; the tops of shiny metal door knobs and bits of fur protrude from tissue boxes, fragments of materials that demand physical contact in order to be properly perceived. The Good Looking series (created between 2016 and 2017) round out the show, literally. Hemispherically-shaped glass plates both cover and enhance colorful embroidered fabric, generating an oscillating depth of field that prompts a type of close looking characterized by very little space between viewer and object.
Bermingham frames his practice within strategies of queer aesthetics, an apt mode of critical inquiry for the artwork. The interrogation of the formal properties of art--the logic of what art can be made of, what it can look like, who can make it--goes beyond the object. When a plate becomes as admirable as a painting, we really confront the social conditioning informing how we perceive the world, and ourselves.
Dave J. Bermingham’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” is on view at Alpha Gallery. The show has been extended through January 10, 2018.