“Voyeur Voyager Forager Forester at Denny Gallery” by Jongho Lee on August 24, 2016
In Brent Birnbaum’s first solo exhibit with Denny Gallery “Voyeur Voyager Forager Forester,” he carves out a new world for audiences to explore through the use of 45 pre-owned mini-fridges (specifically ones with faux wood-panel doors). Birnbaum stacks these objects into 16 different totems, each at a height ranging between two to five of them. The grains on the doors, combined with the heights mimics that of a tree, and in turn, the totems mimic the various trees one might walk through in a forest. In addition to the wood grain exterior, the combined buzzing of all 45 sculptures in the room, when all plugged in, according to the press release, is designed have both an aural and olfactory effect in the space. In fact, when opening the refrigerator’s there is a scent that could be described as a stale, residual smell, something that enhanced the already strange experience. They were not plugged in when I was there because the objects inside started to get moist, but the drone, and in this case silence, seemed to be an important aspect.
In the environment that Birnbaum made in the gallery, he encourages audiences to further explore his works by constructing uncanny scenes in every one of the interiors of the objects fabricated using mixed media, cleverly using materials like bracelets to represent ladders. The more fridges one opens, the more they can see the artist’s ability to demonstrate his more formal and technical qualities. Not only are each of the stacks color coordinated, but he gives each room a different atmosphere and personality through careful consideration of both the objects in the “room” and their composition. For example, in the top rectangle of Untitled (Orange) (2016), are three constructed miniature floor cushions on the first level, and a chair in the second one, with a necklace hanging from the freezer box. On the compartments attached to the door is what seems to be a fence-like barrier. Comparatively, the first fridge of Untitled (Blue II) (2016), is bare, with ladders hanging down from the third and second platforms, and a string hanging from the first. He takes advantage of the sky-blue interior of the door in this minimal composition. Even though he uses miniature couches in some of the interiors such as the second one from the bottom in Untitled (Black) (2016), by using objects like necklaces or trinkets as shown in Untitled (Orange) (2016), Birnbaum is successfully able to create not simply a model of a room, but different worlds inside the interior of the pre-owned refrigerators.
Birnbaum leaves his viewers with a lot to think about, starting with the pre-owned, now nearly obsolete refrigerators, and how some of these brands including Frostman and Sanyo are now practically non-existant compared to those still prevalent today like General Electric and Kenmare. There is also a paradox of using piles of refrigerators that must use a substantial amount of energy to imitate a forest. Aside from the sculptures, there are also the 45 unique rooms within each chilled interior and the invasive nature of touching a sculpture to think about as well. The title of the exhibition pointedly summarizes some of these ideas, while identifying the roles of both the viewers and the artist. The artist is the “forager” of the fridges and the objects placed inside them, while we are first “foresters” amongst the totems, and then “voyeurs” of both the mental and physical space of the artist. Lastly, the artist and the viewers share the role of a “voyager” as the viewers explore the worlds which the artist has intricately created. The success in this show lies not in the utilization of found-objects, the careful consideration of the artist when fabricating and placing miniature objects in each of the pre-owned refrigerators, or the decision to have the viewers participate and apply their different senses to figure the work out, but in the unexpected harmonious blend of each and every one of these elements.
Brent Birnbaum‘s first solo exhibition “Voyeur Voyager Forager Forester” is on view at Denny Gallery at 261 Broome Street in New York until August 26th, 2016.