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When living in an age of over consumption we often find ourselves searching for gold among the piles of plastic. Aaron Brewer and Michael Mahalchick’s installations, currently showing at the Second Gallery, achieve this diamond in the rough status.

Aaron Brewer is an artist, theorist and curator who regularly contributes to C Magazine and is one of the founders of the New York gallery CANADA that also represents Michael Mahalchick. His installation, And if I only could, I’d make a deal with god, and I’d get him to swap our places, features an amalgam of produced objects: Styrofoam, rope, detergent bottles and plastic bags all covered in commercial colors, ranging from hot pink to cool blue to a limelight green. On top of this are the artist’s cryptic scrawlings. Juxtaposed with the byproducts of consumer society are tree branches holding up the installation.

What makes Brewer’s work so striking is that the materials being used are not mere representations of ideas or feelings, but rather, the very physicality of the objects themselves pack such emotion. An onslaught of trash, slathered in neon colors is on the verge of collapsing on the viewer, much like an empire of plastic crumbling under its own weight. The inundation that the viewer feels is exactly what Brewer wants. He is confronting us with the aesthetic of everyday life.

I use this term not as a designator of any standard of beauty, or even to describe a certain look. Brewer’s work has no time for the pretensions of an art world that seeks to hide from the outside world, rather, he shows us the raw physicality of our cultural products in an almost violent manner. But it doesn’t end there. Just as the tree branches holding up the installation shows a dualism between natural and manufactured objects, Brewer leaves us with one more piece of ironic food for thought. Lying on the floor behind the installation is a TV on which plays a montage of wild life stills to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”, the song from which the title is derived. As Kate croons over haunting synth about swapping places with the Almighty to static images of bears and chipmunks, the conquest of material goods over the biosphere becomes apparent. But there is no condescending moralism here, instead it is all rather tongue in cheek.

Turning from Brewer’s poetic cynicism we find Mahalchick’s False Profit. Mahalchick is a sculptor, musician and performance artist who has exhibited works in the US and internationally, including the Andrew Kreps Gallery, PS1 and the Sculpture Center. In False Profit, Mahalchick uses fabric, fur and other bits of textiles to create wrapped and stuffed figures that hint at representation but ultimately fall back into abstraction. These are seated on squares of glass that gives the figures an added dimension. The most figurative of the sculptures is about shoulder height with a set of arms that reach upwards towards the sky. The euphoric feeling is matched by the reflection of light that bounces off the mirrored squares. Mahalchick’s textile sculptures have a very playful quality, like Dr. Seuss crossed with Niki de Saint Phalle.

When contrasted with Brewer’s installation we find a dialogue between the two installations. Whereas Brewer is commenting on the destruction of the natural environment at the behest of consumer culture, Mahalchick’s work takes us away from the harshness of reality into exuberant fantasy. While still retaining the physicality of our world, his figures allude to the world contained in Kenny Scharf’s paintings or the imaginations of outsider artists like Adolph Wolfli. Meanwhile, the use of mirrors conjures other dimensions, reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”. It is this dialogue that makes the show so successful. Brewer sets us up with a clever joke about the excesses of modernity while Mahalchick takes us away from it all with well-crafted fantasy. In the end, Brewer and Mahalchick convey the power of art itself: to both confront us with and take us away from reality.

Second Gallery

"Aaron Brewer and Michael Mahalchick" was on view May 6 - June 10, 2006 at Second Gallery.

All images are courtesy of the artist and Second Gallery.

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