New York artist Drew Conrad’s solo show feels like a particularly aesthetic rendition of world’s end.
Conrad, who is on his third solo show at Get This Gallery, tends to create exhibitions that conjure up a definite mood. His latest, “Backwater Blues,” is like a perfectly executed party with every last detail accounted for, a beautifully contrived shop window display or a meticulously detailed novel. In “Backwater Blues,” Conrad has created a precisely rendered steam punk set piece centered on death and decline and remnants of the past. After a move from the Westside, the newest incarnation of Get This Gallery, on Monroe Drive, has been taken over by a funereal mood of decay and regret for a vanished past.
The strongest works in the show are crumbling portions of entire rooms that dominate the gallery space and suggest a post-apocalyptic stage play. These large architectural sculptures are coated in layers of grime that puddle in piles of dirt on the floor. The decaying rooms reveal wallpaper peeling in sheets from crumbling walls whose wood lath and rusted nails are revealed beneath. A metal chandelier and a string of lights, still burning, sit on the floor beneath one of those sculptures, “Dwelling No. 8 (Blue Boy & Pinkie).” The walls of that room feature reproductions of Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” and the Thomas Lawrence painting “Pinkie” in matching vintage frames. Greasy, filthy bunting is draped on the room like crepe paper, a sad ornament to a lost time.
In Conrad’s hands the construction of our lives and reality seem suddenly flimsy and precarious. His work reveals the easily ravaged armature supporting our ideas of home, culture and comfort. The artworks in the show, which include photographs and prints, are supported on that same flimsy, rotting wood lath to give a feeling of impermanence and instability in place of the feelings of permanence and longevity we normally associate with works of art. In “Backwater Blues,” those remnants of culture endure, but just barely, and all signs of a human element are eerily missing.
In “Remnant No. 4 (Elvis Has Left the Building),” a ravaged, decomposing wall supports a small Polaroid photo housed in an antique frame. The Polaroid is of a well-visited graveside decorated with heaps of flowers and crosses that dwarf the plot itself. The grave is Elvis Presley’s and the piece conveys a sense of loss and remembrance emphasized in other works.
Continuing that pop culture theme in another wall piece, “Debris No. 8 (Boys in the Trees),” a vintage 1978 Carly Simon album clings to more of that decaying wall structure, like something salvaged from the wreckage. Much of the show brings to mind the wanton destruction seen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, of beautiful old buildings and lives ravaged in the storm.
Conrad’s greatest talent in “Backwater Blues” lies in his attention to creating a mood and his skillful rendition of this broke-down, time-ravaged place. But the mix of cultural touchstones can be a jumble. If some of the ideas don’t necessarily hold together except as expressions of the artist’s personal interests — Carly Simon, Elvis, Jonathan Richman, Gainsborough and Lawrence — the ambiance of the show makes up for a sense that the artist hasn’t quite reconciled how these disparate cultural references relate. And it’s unclear what precise condition the artist is mourning: the withering of the universal, shared past; his own past; or just the sad circumstance of time’s passage?
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