Artforum / October 2009

Anissa Mack
SMALL A PROJECTS

Flitting restlessly from reference to reference, Anissa Mack’s work can be confounding in its seeming impatience with any given format, period, or place; it is almost as if the New York–based sculptor is anxious about the possible limitations of a too-intimate association with the themes she addresses. “Your Past A Star,” her first exhibition at Small A’s diminutive Lower East Side space (the gallery was formerly a Portland, Oregon, fixture) was suitably compact, but also diverse enough that it practically did the job of a summer group show. The ten recent works assembled did share some common ground—a preoccupation with craft and folk art predominated—but one couldn’t help wondering what a more focused display might have achieved.

As the press release suggests, a potential if tenuous common denominator in the show might have been an effort to trace continuities through history. The idea that more profound consideration might profitably be devoted to the parallels between past and future is not uninteresting, but here its physical manifestations tended— perhaps inevitably—to disappoint. In this show, Mack’s opening gambits were Gemini I and II (both 2009), two pairs of gold-leafed mannequin legs clad in perfectly tight jeans. The model limbs’ gilded skin and fluted waistlines are intended to evoke ancient statuary while their outfits are clearly contemporary; a temporal bridge is thus established, but to what end? Simply in order to point out that fashions change but ideals of female beauty stay the same? Or to imply that aesthetics in general fluctuate while base instincts persist?

For Broken Star (variation), 2009, Mack tailored quilted denim into a large trapezoidal wall hanging patterned with subtle embroidery. While the work hinges on a flip-flop between then and now that aligns it with the Gemini twins, the panel’s abstract, decorative slant liberates it from the sculptures’ more fixed associations. The dark shape suggests the clean, hard geometry of a Sol LeWitt or even a Richard Serra, while the imposition of a more conventionally approachable surface introduces domestic associations that tug—intriguingly—in another direction. Further, the delicate prettiness of the material’s sewn lines rubs up against its almost-forgotten association with hard graft, a link augmented by the veneer of machismo with which Minimalism is irredeemably tainted.

Three entries from the series “Almost Arrowheads” (Collection #1 and #2 from
2008, and #3 from 2009) framed collections of small, sharp rocks against backgrounds of kaleidoscopic, acid-colored design. The mandala-style arrangement of salvaged flints suggests a commentary on the human desire to bend the natural world to practical ends, contrasted here with a parallel compulsion to aestheticize. From Stone Age to Age of Aquarius, the historical leap is once again enormous, but the purpose of that dizzying shift is no less obscure.

The other works on display—a poetic cross-stitch sampler (Voyage of the Clipper
Ship
, 2009); a wax-on-paper rubbing of a colonel’s memorial plaque appended with a line about his astronaut great-grandson (Eve of Destruction, 2009); a
Susan B. Anthony coin split in half and made into pendants (Failure is Impossible, 2009); and a cast-aluminum pumpkin painted to resemble a giant can of Pepsi (Untitled, 2009)—all toy with totems of Americana, weaving together national histories and myths until the distinction between actual significance and mere signification is thoroughly confused. Mack has proven herself able to travel vast historical distances, but the greater purpose of her effort too often gets lost along the way.

Image: Anissa Mack, Gemini I,2009