Varela versus
3/6/15 - 4/5/15
HOWARD ST - New York, NY
Erika Ceruzzi / Louis Eisner / Dylan Lynch / Dominic Samsworth / Augustus Thompson


In August 2004, Jeanette Varela filed suit against Jeffrey Atkins, better known as hip-hop artist Ja Rule, for damages in excess of $1 million to her 8,000 square foot mansion on Miami’s plush Star Island. Varela, whose neighbors included Robert De Niro, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, and Gloria Estefan, had leased the property for a reported $46,000 to the rapper in 2001 for a 4-day stay over Memorial Day weekend. Varela was outraged when she returned home to find severe structural damage, condom wrappers, and syringes strewn about the property. She later discovered that Atkins had hosted an extravagant party on the premises for more than 600 people when footage of the event aired on the popular MTV show Cribs. On the episode, Atkins was portrayed as the owner of the home as he toured camera crews through the house while inebriated guests danced on the grounds, the rapper Jay-Z arrived on his yacht, and actor Vin Diesel mingled with guests on the back lawn.

Suddenly, a program that revolved around the home as an expression of the “inside” lives of celebrities had itself become mere backdrop for Atkins and his party goers. Typical Cribs episodes made the rounds through the houses of the rich and famous, showcasing their possessions as tributes to their wealth and style. The route was choreographed, the script edited, the rooms arranged like those of a model home, and yet, viewers were to believe they were accessing the true, off-camera personalities of luminaries. What makes Atkin’s segment of note, beside the lawsuit it precipitated, is its twisting of this paradox of the home as a space for authentic expression and as a stage for display. The artists in Varela versus have laid bare this dichotomy, exploring the tropes of domestic life through works that both affirm and challenge our perceptions of the home’s role in understanding our own identities.

An installation by Louis Eisner features three independent walls erected within the gallery and subsequently wallpapered with interior views of the Schloss Augustusburg, Chateau de Chambord, and Drottningholm Palace. These grand vistas, printed on mass-produced vinyl, confront the notion of the house as a total environment intended for visual consumption. Referencing the way affluent American homes such as Varela’s incorporate elements of European design as tokens of taste and prestige, the walls serve as false portals to worlds of decadent aristocracy. In contrast with his installation, Eisner’s realistic oil paintings of porcelain bathtubs from the American Standardcatalogue honor the mundane indulgences afforded by even the most basic of home furnishings. Rendered in an overhead perspective as if beckoning to be stepped into, the tubs invoke an intimate experience, available to all.

Erika Ceruzzi’s steel, aluminum, and wood sculptures intervene with the gallery's architecture, cutting through space and responding to the monotonous planarity of the wall. Ceruzzi's vertical dance pole references the voyeurism of an exotic performance, a fantasy made accessible to any individual who purchases the portable consumer version. A spliced section of the pole spans across the gallery doorway, a simple gesture reconfiguring the pole to pull up bar, drawing a parallel between gendered ideas of exercise and physique. The poles together exist as mechanisms forsupport, both of their environment and the individual's aspirations toward somatic ideals. In the privacy of a domestic space, these practices are translated to personal brands of calisthenics, the workout ritual as self-cultivation.

Two steel sculptures by Dylan Lynch, both rendered as deconstructed versions of an IKEA side table, and a ceramic-tiled shower turned on its side, blur the boundaries between functionality and aesthetics. Using only the elements inherent to the original table, Lynch has restructured the form into works that inventively activate the negative space around them while maintaining the integrity of their former lives as practical pieces of furniture. Sitting atop blankets knitted by his family members, the works juxtapose the organicity of the handmade with precision fabrication. IKEA, which prides itself on balancing everyday usability with sound design, manufactures their tables out of inexpensive particle wood. Lynch’s sculptures are fabricated in steel, a material whose permanence and weight embodies the value we invest in the objects we live with.

Rather than emphasizing the physical attributes of a home, its decor and materials, Augustus Thompson’s works engage with it as a vessel for a life and the accumulated memories it consists of. Personal sketches made by the artist away from his studio capture fleeting thoughts with swift gestures. Here, the canvas is reconditioned as mental space, representing a repository of experiences, thoughts, and their trailing memories. Networks of scanned images ride the stretcher’s sides, establishing a multi-faceted viewing experience analogous to the palimpsest of the mind. Applying painted marks to the surfaces, his finished compositions produce a visual field both immediate  and filtered, offering passages of flattened time and space.

The founding premise of the exhibition, by definition, is its temporary nature. It is a staged event, facilitated purely for the purpose of display while purporting to expose passages of the artist’s psyche. In this sense, the exhibition is no more morally justified than Atkins’s performance on hisCribs episode. Just as the hip-hop star successfully cultivated an image of his opulent lifestyle through the use of real world props, so have the artworks on view in Varela versus made a momentary home here, capitalizing on the privileged environment of the gallery to advance their own agendas.