Doug Edge | Dear Mr. Edge
Review by Shana Nys Dambrot
C. Nichols Project through November 23rd
Doug Edge is a polymath whose pioneering and frequently hilarious application of space age materials to a classical vision of painting, and the vectors of art historical painting and sculpture to the elevation of post-industrial mediums, have made him an indispensable figure. But more than the materialist advances he pursues to this day, Edge’s work is further animated by its strong literary voice and piquant wit, balanced on a deep-thinking conceptualist foundation which makes his singular works in all mediums equally about at least two or three things at once. As further testimony to the enduring relevance of his multivalent practice of decades, please note that without the presence of a checklist, it would be absolutely impossible to discern which of the four works in his current exhibition at C. Nichols Project were made in 1974, 1978, or — as two of them are — in 2016. Such is the freshness and formal razzle-dazzle of the sculptural objects and installations in Dear Mr Edge.
His two early works, Entrance to Heaven or Hell (1974, Plastic mirror, wood and colored plexiglass, 80 x 7.5 x 49 in.) and Milagro Earth in Curved Space (1978-91, mixed media, dimensions variable) are spectacular, engaging Instagram-ready mirrored installations. They are each by definition interactive as the viewer’s own presence and other works in the show enter into the compositions through their various reflective elements, distorting the anatomy and visage of the viewer in kinetic changeable effects of spliced, differentially lit (in the case of the former) and corner-straddling, fun-house curved (the latter) mirrored planes of the works. In Entrance to Heaven or Hell, a mantled fireplace evokes a framed picture, but the dimensionality and metonymic spatial depth render its premise almost literal. A celestial light radiates from the upper left; a row of pop-inflected laser-cut flames heats the lower right. The narrative pun works, the pictorialism-by-another-means works, and the conceptual poetry of depicting a liminal space succeed by highlighting the audience’s choice-making complicity in interpreting modern art. Nearby, the playful surrealism of the mirror in Milagro Earth in Curved Space makes it hard to resist interacting with it both in one’s body and one’s iPhone. But it’s not a toy. Well, okay, it’s more than just a toy. It’s a perspective-shifting, architecturally engaged, infinitely scalable experiential exercise in attention span extension. Both are testaments to the persistent delights of prizing craftsmanship even within conceptualism.
The two newer works Have a Nice Day (2016, Etched mirror in painted wood frame, 48 x 77 in.) and Buddha Basket (2016, basketball hoop and ball, dimensions variable) borrow tropes from the hospitality and entertainment realms and are thus perhaps a tad less esoteric than the older works — but they derive their impactful presence from the same winning combination of wry commentary and expressive craft. In the former, the eponymous message is written in an Asian alphabet, forcing the viewer to take the artist’s word for it as to meaning. One gets the distinctly paranoiac impression that its actual translation is something far less friendly. In the latter, iconography of Buddhism and competitive sports — the world’s most and least meditative pursuits, respectively — are juxtaposed in humorously dissonant regard of different cultures’ and certain individuals’ means and methods of relaxation. As is prevalent in these and other works by Edge, the special trick is balancing considerations of self, society, and studio.