Artforum / April 2009

Trenton Duerksen and Aaron King
GUILD & GREYSHKUL

Every so often, an exhibition comes along that displays a real exuberance, a delight in the act of making or transforming before which ideals of formal resolution seem irrelevant. Trenton Duerksen and Aaron King’s recent appearance at the late lamented Guild & Greyshkul (this was the much-admired gallery’s penultimate project, preceding a last multiartist hurrah) was one such show. In this heterogeneous array of likably rough-and-ready sculptures, the identities and imagined agendas of the young artists ultimately mattered less than an overall atmosphere of energetic experiment. The room fizzed with ideas, certainly, but didacticism was refreshingly absent.

Duerksen and King set great store by the process of making by hand. Even the more “manufactured” works here betray a certain amount of by-eye approximation, and there’s a sketchiness to most of them that suggests an instinctive commitment to producing objects with a direct relationship to the scale and natural powers of the body. There are references to the corporeal on the level of the image (representations of limbs or items of furniture, for example) and to physiology (eating and digestion in particular). That such preoccupations are so effectively juxtaposed with more abstract meditations on shape and balance speaks to the artists’ lightness of touch.

This lightness also extends to some lively sight gags. King’s Bowling Ball Head, 2008, for example, is a hirsute black orb complete with fi nger holes, while his Untitled (Wrestler’s Leg), 2008, turns a hideously pumped-up, spray-tanned thigh into a kind of biomorphic paperweight. Duerksen’s wit is softer, but no less appealing. His Urban Stump, 2008, turns a stack of wood and aluminum offcuts, a few old phone books, and a couple of other, less readily identifiable parts papered with lottery tickets into a piece of faux-natural scenery. And Metric Fly vs. Standard Fly, 2008, pits two gold-painted wooden insects against one another in a battle of the systems. 

But however unique the materials or ostensible themes here, both Duerksen and King display an awareness of historical precedents.  King’s Sock Stack, 2008, might look comical, but squint and it could be an improvised rough cut for Sol LeWitt’s “Incomplete Open Cubes,” 1974. His untitled square of scoops of concrete “ice cream” (in “chocolate,” “strawberry,” and “vanilla”) also has a certain minimalistconceptualist aftertaste (a hint of Felix Gonzalez-Torres?). And Duerksen’s Kids’ Chairs, 2008 (made in collaboration with Danielle Frazier), a photographic grid of examples of the titular item, framed in galvanized steel, follows any number of artistic precedents in its impulse to identify the strangeness of ordinary objects by presenting them, or their images, en masse.

Elsewhere, the work’s life really does flow from its medium. You can’t make extensive use of bubble gum, for example, as King does in one large untitled sculpture, without conjuring up a host of wayward associations. The work’s knotted, hot-pink surface looks grotesque, but it’s impossible to avoid giving it a sniff—at which point the memories begin to issue forth in a pop-Proustian flood. And whatever obscure narratives are unfolding in Duerksen’s Target Fixation, 2009, and Three Figures on a Shelf, 2008, one can’t get far from the queasy physical fact of their papier-mâché-spattered surfaces. With these and other instances of suck-it-and-see chutzpah, Duerksen and King’s show was a timely reminder that galleries work best when they serve as testing grounds.

Image: View of "Trenton Duerksen and Aaron King," 2009