Among the season’s most immersive — and vaguely unsettling — exhibitions is Die Hexe, a solo show by Yale University MFA Alex Da Corte which conjures ghosts manifested in physical objects within a dollhouse-like labyrinth. The artist has transformed the townhouse gallery on East 77th Street, which was once home to members of the tragically fated 1960s pop group the Mamas and the Papas, by filling it with seemingly random objects juxtaposed with works by other artists. The former residence also has the distinction of being the second narrowest structure of its kind in Manhattan, lending the contents an effective claustrophobic density.
Windows of the ground-floor entry are blacked out; autumnal scents permeate the air; wicker baskets, candles, and other rustic ephemera — which the artist says recall a childhood spent partly in rural Pennsylvania with his dollhouse-making grandmother — adorn shelves. A taxidermy blackbird, recalling Edgar Allan Poe’s famous raven, perches atop a door; woven rugs cover stairs that lead from floor to floor. Through a peephole in another door, viewers see Robert Gober’s 1993 Drain, in cast pewter, surrounded by mirrors.
Despite such rich associations, Da Corte insists he isn’t interested in ‘the about-ness’ of a thing. ‘Everything has some kind of association,’ he says. Over time, old associations disappear with context, perhaps acquiring new ones. Along the way, spaces and objects retain something of the psychic energy we impart to them — or perhaps shed it entirely, leaving room for reinvention, loss of purpose, or both.
Installation view of Alex Da Corte, Die Hexe, 2015, featuring Bjarne Melgaard, Allen Jones Remakes, 2013. © DACS 2015. Photo by John Bernardo, courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan, New York.
Upstairs, in a room bathed in orange light, an afghan rug covers covering an unidentifiable object, as though something’s been literally swept beneath the rug. A stuffed animal lies atop it, and together, they form Mike Kelley’s Arena #8 (Leopard), 1990. Surrounding the piece is a myriad of material, each component embedded with meanings and associations, both apparent and unseen. An oddly augmented recreation of a Pennsylvania Dutch rocking chair sways of its own accord. Nearby a stool, modeled after the one Kurt Cobain used to block the door to the room where he committed suicide, sits partly on another woven rug and partly on the work by Kelley, who also died of an apparent suicide. Atop the stool sits an organic pumpkin, which over time, Da Corte notes, will slowly rot from the inside.
‘Cobain’s urgently placed, multi-legged stool becomes a benign seat for a simple rotting pumpkin in time,’ says the artist. ‘This shift is constantly occurring within all the stuff around us and within us. . . . We, too, can be urgent, fecund beings with specific purposes and goals and lose that target in time without realizing it.’
On another floor, amid sultry, cat-shaped neon lights and a stripper pole, the viewer encounters Bjarne Melgaard’s 2013 Allen Jones Remakes, in which a sculpture of a bondage-clad woman fuses with a coffee table. One floor higher, the reference returns to Gober, in the form of macabre morgue drawers fitted with drains and filled with minty mouthwash. Pieces of Swiffers, a popular household-cleaning tool, form the handles. All appropriated works, if sold, will be molded and recast entirely in white — ghosts of themselves, as it were — informed by layers of meaning.
Main image at top: Installation view of Alex Da Corte, Die Hexe, 2015, featuring Mike Kelley, Arena #8 (Leopard), 1990. © The Estate of Mike Kelley, LLC/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015. Photo by John Bernardo, courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan, New York.
Alex Da Corte: Die Hexe is on at Luxembourg & Dayan, New York until 11 April