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judith hopf

Puddle, pothole, portal

Sculpture Center, New York
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puddle, pothole, portal


Puddle, pothole, portal was co-curated by Ruba Katrib, Curator, SculptureCenter, and artist Camille Henrot. This exhibition inaugurated SculptureCenter’s newly expanded and renovated building.

With play and curiosity, we can test boundaries and decipher our space. Bumping into objects, pushing them over, hopping over figments, falling down, we are clumsy and mischievous, like children in a world of new technologies. Incorporating a sense of wonder and humor, concepts surrounding animation and cartooning are expanded into an exhibition that enacts a similar sort of hysteria around flatness and depth in relation to technologies, real and illusory spaces—physical, virtual, internal, and external.

Thinking through early 20th century cartoons, the kaleidoscopic drawings of Saul Steinberg, the innovative and self-reflexive film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and other children’s entertainment, the exhibition explored the coexistence of disparate elements within shared spaces. Gags betray complex meanings and sociopolitical satire, and unrelated objects, locales, and avatars interact in the same dimension. The works on view transcended the categories that separate drawing from sculpture, the human from the nonhuman, and the animated from the static, while experiences of technological devices and flatness lead to fantastic and absurd implications for objects and space. As screens, passageways, and shadows populate both physical and virtual realms, we question whether they are reflections or traces of the objective world, obstructions, fantasies, or entryways into other realms.

Many of the artists produced new works for the exhibition: Camille Blatrix created a singing mailbox that waited for an important letter to arrive, and once it did, you had to find the key to read it; Allison Katz opened a new dimension through a site-specific painting incorporating the architecture of the exhibition space; Chadwick Rantanen tempted gravity through a series of suspended objects; and Marlie Mul superimposed images of band-aids onto the surrounding environment.

The exhibition also presented Keiichi Tanaami’s sculptures for the first time in the United States, as well as brought Saul Steinberg’s prescient and influential drawings into a group exhibition of contemporary art. Coinciding with Steinberg’s centennial anniversary, Puddle, pothole, portal, considered the artist as an early figure who envisioned virtual realities, and created complex images that juxtapose unlikely characters into new worlds—often sharing them through the printed page, to the amusement and puzzlement of mass audiences.

The exhibition was accompanied by a full-color publication with texts by Ruba Katrib; Spyros Papapetros, Associate Professor of History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University; an English translation and reprinting of Serge Daney’s 1988 text, “The Last Temptation of the Toons;” and a visual essay by Camille Henrot. The publication is available at SculptureCenter and through ARTBOOK | D.A.P.