‘A Fall of Corners’ was a fitting title for Samara Golden’s exhibition. It’s September and you’re standing in a space that is oddly familiar but doesn’t feel quite real. You want to touch something. You walk slowly to check your legs are still firmly planted on the ground. You look around: on one side are two dining halls. One is a cheap Italian restaurant with red-chequered tablecloths complete with a salad bar, while the other contains a set of white tables with waxy clean cloths, wine glasses and a silverware arrangement. On the other side of the gallery, is an urban apartment – a carpet, a bed, a closet, some sofas and chairs, all coloured silver. There’s a linoleum floor meant to look like hardwood. Only the floor is on the wall. Everything is, actually.
Golden’s installation is a collection of furniture made of boards and cheap materials, all fastened to the walls. It’s reflected in mirrors placed on the ground, so the rooms seem infinite but also give the impression of fragility, as if everything could fall at any minute. And all of this is seen from a kind of viewing gallery, a balcony separating the apartment from the two dining zones. There’s a soundtrack of aircraft noise and ominous melodies emanating from somewhere behind the fancier restaurant while the ceiling of the apartment section is covered by a projection of a blue sky with a few photogenic clouds moving across it. Just when you think you’re getting comfortable in this staged messiness, Golden pulls the rug – the viewing space is literally carpeted wall-to-wall – from under your feet. You lean against the banister and see how it’s all built: the plywood construction is just visible enough to shatter the illusion.
But is it an illusion? The white-linen restaurant section includes a table full of coffee mugs and a big bowl of Splenda sweetener. All of a sudden, it seems more like the cafeteria of a retirement community than a downtown restaurant. Nothing is what it seems. While the exhibition, with its dining room theme, brings to mind Daniel Spoerri’s ‘snare-pictures’ assemblages from the 1960s – tables covered with leftovers dangling from the walls or ceiling – it only winks at such examples. It’s main concern is with upending the idea of illusionism. Golden builds interiors that are far from aspirational, the apartment is not a cut-out from a design magazine, the restaurants not Michelin-starred: they are just familiar enough for their inversed appearance to be jarring. There’s never an explicit narrative or statement, and filling these spaces is the work of the imagination: they remind you of so much – from novels to films to lived experience – that for Golden to leave them empty is to imbue her installations with these associations and never exactly tell their story.
All of the above is in line with Golden’s recent work: at MoMA PS1 in New York this year she showed another apartment interior – an inverted duplex with a silver bed and cardboard sofas and stairs, in which the mirror once again serves as an organizing, replicating mechanism (The Flat Side of the Knife, 2015) while in Mass Murder (at Night Gallery, Los Angeles, in 2014) it was a room reminiscent of a hotel suite, with angular, silver furnishings. There’s a bench ready in front of a piano and a blanket strewn over the couch as if the occupant of the space had just stepped out for a minute. (Who was it? What happened? What’s with the violent titles?) And then there are the mirrors. While Mass Murder is not glued to the walls or the ceiling, it does include a wall-length mirror that duplicates the room. These pieces could be the production of an extravagant doll’s house maker or a set designer, but instead they are spheres of multiplication, installations that demand the work of quantitative verbs to describe: doubling, compounding, cloning. It may be a shtick; still, standing in these environments, you can’t help but feel that it is working.