[See also our October 19 post: Brian Jungen's Prototypes for New Understanding.]
Art in Review
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: December 23, 2005
New Museum of Contemporary Art
556 West 22nd Street
Through Dec. 31
Aware that the Nike Air Jordan trainers worn by the basketball star Michael Jordan are a fetish item around the world, Brian Jungen, a young British Columbian of partly Northwest Coast Indian descent, has cleverly refashioned these trophy sneakers into ceremonial masks that strikingly suggest the artifacts produced by Northwest Coast tribes.
He wastes no scrap, making some parts into birdlike beaks, arranging others to form yawning apertures, working still others into headdresses and so on, to brilliant effect. The masks might be seen as a sardonic view of the cultural takeover and commercialization of aboriginal art so widespread in Canada and the United States, and also as a comment on the need for fetishes - in this case, the exalted Nike - that is every bit as strong in modern societies as in so-called primitive ones.
Another example of Mr. Jungen's skill at making mundanities into art is his elegant transformation of banal white plastic modular chairs into three full-size whale skeletons. These float benignly above the viewer's head, like specimens in a natural history museum. He has said that in making the first one, "Shapeshifter" (2000), he wanted to see if a reproduction of an object from the natural world could be formed from something completely inorganic. He succeeded wildly, to the point at which a viewer might ponder what miracles could be wrought by nature if it had modular chairs to work with.
Several less awesome objects continue Mr. Jungen's interest in tweaking what he calls traditional forms by means of new materials, techniques and ideas, in the process attacking cultural clichés. Unfortunately, the gallery's space doesn't really allow for a more extensive account of his doings, especially past projects having to do with architecture. But if it's hard to get the full scope of his societal investigations, you come away with a sense of a wizardly craftsman whose skills are equal to his vision. GRACE GLUECK