Kris Kuksi (HF vol.13) continues to mesmerize the art world with his ornate but powerfully focused work. Yasmin Bilbeisi explores the new Kris Kuksi show now being exhibited at NYC’s Joshua Liner Gallery in a special report for Hi-Fructose.
NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
By Yasmin Bilbeisi
Not since Dorothy Gale meandered up the Yellow Brick Road en route to Oz, has an emissary from Kansas so effectively expatriated our imaginations to a visionary hinterland. The work of Kris Kuksi is as relevant to our age as the Wizard of Oz was to its. However, seventy years later, Kuksi has launched an exquisite sculptural protest against the very society that the film idolized, making him an anti-Dorothy of sorts. Their paths seem to have diverged when Dorothy opted to travel over the mythical Rainbow. Kuksi instead opts to traverse the dark underbelly, leading viewers to beguiling dystopias. While Dorothy was knocked unconscious it seems that Kuksi has been jarred in consciousness (and conscientiousness).
Kuksi’s mixed media assemblages effervesce with detail and seductive opulence. Using the flotsam and jetsam of consumerism, Kuksi crafts spellbinding 3D tableaux reminiscent of Baroque and Rococo art. Kuksi has said that he feels he was born in a different era, thus his sculptures are a commentary on time we live in.. He is like a translator, using plastic as a language to describe the antiquated (but futuristic) civilizations more native to his psyche.
It is impossible to just glance at one of his works- the endless array of found plastic shapes demand full attention. I have to admit that , because they stupefied me so much on a purely aesthetic level, I was initially indifferent to the underlying themes and inspirations. The visual magnetism is so salient, it could easily circumvent the need for deep meaning. In much the same way that humans lacking scruples and neural activity are excused if they are packaged right, Kuksi’s sculptures are so good looking, it seems like superficiality would be the natural drawback. Therefore, upon discovering that such lofty inspirations as politics, war, famine, and discrimination propel the work, I was a bit dubious. It seemed too good to be true, like the question round of a Miss Universe pageant. Having only seen one (particularly) small work of his in person, I was looking forward to unleashing my skepticism at the opening of “Beast Anthology” at the Joshua Liner Gallery. In the meantime, I was decided to galvanize my understanding by reading up on him.
The urgent need to see his work firsthand started to mount as I researched him. Kuksi has such sincere discourse accompanying his creations that my initial musings about authenticity flopped promptly. His hyperawareness and acute attention to the minutia of each sculpture is a transmutation of his worldly sensitivity. The works, asserts Kuksi, have grotesque and horrific aspects- particularly in their decadence and surplus. However, they are far more recognized for their luxurious beauty.
There was something stolidly confident about the gallery showing Kuksi at the exact same time this year as last, without the usual PR subterfuge nervously assuring an au courant twist. The press release was bereft of the usual sycophantic promises of something new. Clearly Kuksi’s work was so well received last time that there was no need for gimmicks.
As I entered the gallery on November 2nd, I noticed a distinct atmosphere. Gallery openings in NY, with their high profile attendees, open bars, and roving photographers, despite the best of intentions, can sometimes lose their focus. Even the most attentive art appreciators are sometimes complicit with the audience upstaging the exhibit- regarding the artwork as nothing more than a novel backdrop for photographs. This phenomenon was distinctly absent at Kuksi’s opening. The twelve works had semi-circles of enraptured viewers splayed in front of them at all times. The sculptures had effectively tamed them, bringing a new dimension to the word beast.
Anthology is a word usually reserved for literary collections, but it made perfect sense in this context. The viewers lingered at each piece, taking in the minute details with the same consideration a reader weighs each word in a sentence. The word implies and investment in time and understanding, something freely supplied by the crowd. The gratuitous opening reception tourism which proliferates such events was replaced by studious concentration.
I recognized the piece. “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” and voyeuristically positioned myself behind the pack of enthralled patrons.
Is it REALLY made out of plastic?” ventured one.
The replies came at once, which was another anomaly in gallery procedure. I am so accustomed to the unspoken protocol for viewing work amongst strangers. Feigning comprehension and looking unaffected seem to be the usual default settings for patrons at openings, lest they betray anything short of expertise on the matter. Kuksi’s work is so tantalizing in person that it is hard to display anything but the most visceral of reactions.
The prevailing complaint was that the viewers felt limited by their inability to perceive the more dainty details. Taped below the sculptures were rectangles restricting proximity to the works. The pragmatists behind this move seemed to forget that, if the work managed to transfix people enough that they would cross this honor-system forcefield, then they probably were not looking at the ground in the first place. Due to the compulsion to stick digit and proboscises into the fantastical pieces, a (very anxious) security guard was ricocheting from transgressor to transgressor. His intervention prompted the painter Richard Meyer to suggest that some sort of magnification device be offered in the future, something I strongly agreed with. Meyer felt that monocles, of a similar degree of ornamentation, on chains next to the pieces would best solve the problem.
A similar conversation ensued with another crowd later on, a member of which suggested the pieces be displayed in magnified cubes with panoramic access. It seems the biggest criticism of the show was that the viewers wanted more; which is not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, the success of the show was evidenced in an epidemic of red dots. It seems that all of the work sold immediately. One of which was rumored to have been purchased by Robin Williams. Previous sales of Kuksi’s works have also been to high profile clients: Mark Parker (Nike CEO), Kay Alden (Emmy winning writer), Fred Durst, and Christopher Weitz (director).
Scanning the premise for Kuksi himself, I expected to see someone in idiosyncratic Renaissance clothing or other equally pronounced trappings (or a very, very small person). Instead, Kuksi is as unassuming as his works are flamboyant. Despite the fanfare around him , he was forthcoming with both his time and input, something I did not expect at such a lively opening.
Kuksi later supplied me with this insight into the show:
“Beast Anthology” is a metaphorical ode to all those demons in the human mind. It is a lesson in introspection for those who have viewed the work, and my hopes are that in looking into our dark side we must not avoid what ill thoughts and fears exist, but get to know them, learn from them, and then we can gain the vision to conquer them.
Kuksi’s works clearly articulate the “new wilderness” he speaks of, a conversely barren and busy habitat that results from the fall of modern society. I encourage anyone with an opportunity to view his work to seize it.
I’m sure most adults can reminisce on the puerile desire to be the same size as one’s toys: a sentiment that Kuksi work revives. I left his show with a mischievous desire to spray CFC’s into the environment, to dust the streets of NY with litter, and sizzle some icecaps, hoping to speed up the apocolypse. Fortunately, I have found a way around obliterating mankind to realize this dream. Kuksi has promised to shrink me to 3cm as soon as he perfects his minimalizer gun, and, having seen what he is capable of creating, I trust this innovation is within his faculties.