California-based artist Kristen Morgin’s works in her most recent exhibition at the Zach Feuer Gallery in New York City look like pop culture religious artifacts crafted by tribe of feral children. The Super Can Man and Other Illustrated Classics included 41 pieces by the artist and it wrapped up at the gallery earlier this month.
The exhibition makes me imagine girls and boys rescuing broken action figures, doll heads and Little Golden Books from piles of rubble and making their own playthings. They do this because all the toy stores closed after society collapsed. In no way should this be misconstrued as negativity. The familiarity of seeing, for example, a Spider-Man figure, but seeing that the figure was cobbled together from different parts and touched up with crayon triggers these kinds of narratives. How do these imagined children view something with the culture capital of Disney’s Snow White after her storybook was defaced with scratch-n-sniff stickers and left to get soggy in the woods?
Some people find Morgin’s detritus-aesthetic difficult to appreciate. New York Times critic Ken Johnson begins his review by admitting he went into the exhibition with a chip on his shoulder.
“I thought it consisted of all kinds of grungy found objects, including moldy old paperback books and magazines, beat-up toys and children’s books, flattened cigarette packs and a rusty tricycle missing one wheel. Collages made of scraps torn from corrugated cardboard boxes added to the impression of an artist beguiled by the humble poetry of rubbish.”
But he realized that his initial impression was an illusion. Sure, the “Meet the Beatles” album appears to have been salvaged from the basement of a dingy flea market which caught on fire, but it’s actually a flat piece of clay painted by Morgin. All of the objects in the show are similarly artificial.
“The effect of Ms. Morgin’s eye-fooling magic is to make you attend with heightened sensitivity to things in the world and, at the same time, to your own processes of perception. Overlook nothing: The more you see, the more there is to see.”
We can move forward with Johnson’s observation and realize that Morgin’s work combines narrative, nostalgia and fabrication. These are present in everyone’s memories about youth and are inseparable. For me, Morgin’s works can be useful as a compass when I go back and think on my own childhood.
Kristen Morgin was born in 1968 in Brunswick, GA. Her work was featured in Overthrown: Clay Without Limits, Denver Art Museum, The 12th Istanbul Biennial, Huckleberry Finn at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art in San Francisco, Unmonumental at the New Museum in New York, Thing at UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and Red Eye at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Morgin lives and works in Gardena, CA.
Bill Rodgers is a Contributing Editor at CFile.
Above image: Kristen Morgin, The Amazing Spider-Man. Photograph courtesy of the gallery.
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