BY Matthew Erickson in Reviews | 23 SEP 16
Featured in
Issue 183

Alex Da Corte

MASS MoCA, North Adams, USA

BY Matthew Erickson in Reviews | 23 SEP 16

Before even stepping foot into the expansive galleries of Alex Da Corte’s hallucinatory exhibition, ‘Free Roses’, visitors are met by a sinister glow. Due primarily to the primary-coloured neon lights arranged over Lightning (2016), an elaborate new installation in the otherwise dark central space, the effect also encapsulates the show’s prevailing atmosphere.

Da Corte – who, despite being only in his mid-30s, is already the subject of a survey show for his varied output over the past several years – favours a palette that is at once elegant and cheap, polished and garish. In his sculptures and installations, trashy baubles meet custom fabrications, while found objects are made to appear finely crafted and vice versa. The artist’s well-known video, Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (2010), features luminous farm-fresh cherries painted with slick red nail polish, while an assortment of plastic bags, tubes and containers
are prodded in close-up slow motion like high-end luxury goods. Da Corte transforms the gallery spaces around each video with floor tiles and intricate, geometrically patterned wallpapers. This is especially true of the four-channel video Easternsports (2014), made with artist Jayson Musson, which is set within a gaudy, neon-lit environment littered with fake oranges. 

Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson, Easternsports, 2014, installation view at MASS MoCA, North Adams, 2016. Courtesy: the artists

Lightning, a series of discrete yet interwoven installations that spreads across the massive central gallery, is the show’s crown jewel. The work is one of several to reference Arthur Rimbaud’s angst-ridden prose poem A Season in Hell (1873). An acknowledged influence on the surrealists, who also informed Lightning’s deliriously distorted domestic environments, Rimbaud once declared: ‘I am a master of phantasmagoria’ –a statement that also fits Da Corte here. Each of the eight pieces within the open floor plan has the appearance of a stage set with invisible walls, the rectangular neon fixture above giving these otherwise banal settings an ominous tint. Though Da Corte uses many of the same elements from his earlier work – plastic food, toy animals, sickeningly bright hues and small objects cartoonishly enlarged – here they combine to set a mood that is simultaneously nostalgic and nightmarish.

Alex Da Corte, Lightning (2015-16), installation view, MASS MoCA, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Luxembourg & Dayan Gallery, New York; photograph: John Bernardo

In one component piece, a pair of motorized plastic swans cradling electric candles swim after one other in a loop, through a shallow pool of water, amongst plastic lily pads and pancakes slathered in butter and syrup. Elsewhere, a black widow spider of vast proportions lurks behind a box of Kleenex, its gigantic sheet of protruding tissue frozen stiffly upright. A pair of conjoined elastic arms emerges from the open window of a clapboard house’s nearly life-sized façade, while an array of loose tennis balls lie motionless behind. A black fabric rectangle and a pile of dirt on a red carpet form a clean grave beside a huge upright target that resembles the Looney Tunes bulls-eye logo, devoid of characters. A leashed and taxidermied dog with wheels for paws – the same breed as Nicole Brown Simpson’s pet, Akita – wears the mask of another dog’s face as it spins around a small track, stringed drool hanging from its mouth; a severed hand sporting a black leather glove lies nearby, at the edge of the carpet, alluding to the trial of Brown Simpson’s alleged murderer, her husband O.J.

Alex Da Corte, Lightning (2015-16), installation view, MASS MoCA, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Luxembourg & Dayan Gallery, New York; photograph: John Bernardo

Sunday cartoons, paediatricians’ waiting rooms, horror movies on VHS, middlebrow interior decor, the O.J. Simpson trial and Halloween sugar highs: the loose associations that Da Corte creates in ‘Free Roses’ are dizziing, dark and perversely wistful. The works reflect the excesses of consumerism and the echo chamber of popular culture, though any overly direct readings would be reductive. By filtering a stream of imagery familiar to suburban America through the visual language of conceptualism, Da Corte has produced a show that is also oddly autobiographical. The effect is both kaleidoscopic and reflective: we see the skewed memories of an artist who came of age in the 1980s and ’90s through the splintered fragments of our own past.