Michael Werner Gallery

At Michael Werner Gallery’s new London outpost, Aaron Curry’s work looks pleasantly dislocated in its posh west end lodgings. Curry transposes the formal habits of high modernism to the psychic territory of his Los Angeles home-base, a city that serves as both a wellspring and junk yard of our collective cultural unconscious. His surrealistic totem-like wooden structures balance like boogie boarders upon bases comprised of the flattened images of Klingons, and neon-hued paintings on irregular corrugated cardboard comprise a Technicolor foil to the gray weather outside.

Within contemporary art, themes of collecting and re-phrasing have grown rather stale, but Curry pushes beyond conventional methods of appropriation with an associative process that imagines the artist as a cultural ‘hobo’. He picks over the detritus of our modern visual universe, assembling semi-abstract sculptures upon bases fashioned out of glossy advertisements and film memorabilia. A hodgepodge of art historical avant-garde ‘isms’ mingle with slick posters, puerile cartoons and even the gimmicky d’cor of American restaurant chain Long John Silvers. Curry’s reassembled cultural matrix is both grounded in the personal and deeply set in a more universal cultural id.

His work oversees a balance of high and low culture; modernist abstraction is literally entangled with pop icons and movie posters. There is also an intermingling of the European and American, a fact amplified by this exhibition’s location in the heart of west London. A modernist tradition rooted primarily in the work of European artists shares space with the legacy of the Chicago Imagists, amidst images swiped from cereal boxes, comic books and box-office blockbusters.

Despite their sturdy wood and board structures, Curry’s sculptures betray the airiness of paper cut-outs. They flip between the two- and three-dimensional, employing flattened images while giving volume to surfaces in a game of Deleuzian spatial gymnastics. The sculptures on view at Michael Werner Gallery display an increased tendency towards the provisional, as they are left more unpolished than Curry has allowed in previous work. Wood stain is applied scantily, sometimes scribbled, merely describing the outlines of the component wooden forms. This mirrors the makeshift quality of his paintings, propped like surfboards around the fringes of the room.

These forms cite modernism, with a pointed nod to primitivism. But in Curry’s associative world, it is a cartoon primitivism that prevails; Snap, Crackle, and Pop, the Kellogg’s Rice Krispies mascots, merge with tribal artefacts torn out of text books. Curry’s vaguely anthropomorphic sculptures reference both cartoon figures and the modern conception of a ‘tribal’ aesthetic. In this sense, he moves beyond banal allusion to the primitivist movement; he is in fact examining how modern culture reconciles with the idea of the primitive itself.