Seth Kaufman at The Situation Room
By Genie Davis
Through April 30th
Seth Kaufman is best known as a sculptor. His history is making things. “I teach materials of art and design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena,” he relates. “I’ve basically taught sculpture for sixteen years. People know me as someone who uses materials.”
At The Situation Room, a small but beautifully designed gallery-in-a-garage in Eagle Rock, Kaufman is making something with a whole new set of materials. Using photography to record a variety of Instagrammable creations, his show features two sets of 25 photo grids, and two large scale photographs, based on the work that Kaufman has been creating during what can only be described as a sea change in his artistic sensibility. “For awhile I was questioning whether I was going to call myself an artist, I was kind of at a standstill. We had a baby and when she was three or four, I started making her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cutting them into shapes, just trying to have fun with it and entertain her. But after months and months of doing that, I realized that this was not a casual pursuit, that I was making art. I was sharing my gift, my skills as a sculptor, with my daughter in the form of food.”
So Kaufman began to photograph his sandwich sculptures, and post them to Instagram, feeling, he says, as if he were entering into “uncharted territory. The photos I was posting, the photos that are in the exhibition, they are photographs of sculpture. They are documentations of an actual sculpture that I have created that exists for the moment of the photograph.”
Along with the medium of sculpted sandwiches – which is truly astonishing, miniature artifacts that are both tribal and abstract in nature – Kaufman began experimenting with thrift store finds, stacking dishes with fabric to create a mandala-like appearance. He’s also uncovered a technique that utilizes a beach trash can in Redondo Beach. “It frames very cinematically. Knowing it is a trash can I’m shooting through is kind of perverse; it is so beautiful, but you know you are viewing the world thru a stinky receptacle,” he laughs. Kaufman has been asked to document a friend’s pregnancy shot through that trash can, a series he is currently undertaking.
These series appear on Kaufman’s Instagram series #throughatrashcan; Instagram is also home to over 400 of his sandwich photos.
“So many of my peers over the years have sent me emails saying they use my peanut butter and jelly sandwich pieces for design classes. It’s so funny to arrive at sculpture and have it interpreted as a photograph or design,” he notes.
In his current solo exhibition, Please, now at The Situation Room, there are a grid of 25 PB&J sandwich photos, and another 25-photo grid depicting other photos from Kaufman’s Instagram work, including his plate pieces. Additionally, there are two 44 X 44 inch photographs on the opposite wall of the exhibition from the two grids. The large scale photos featured in this exhibition come from another of the artist’s series, which is also titled Please. It documents male hands with ornate nail polish designs. Behind this series is Kaufman’s desire as a feminist to take back the ownership of a male hand, “away from the increasingly negative narratives associated with…grotesquely imbalanced, entitled male behavior” in an attempt to “direct a social gaze to men’s capacity for benevolence, playfulness and nurturing.” Today’s political regime served as a trigger to create this work, according to Kaufman.
He describes both the series and the exhibition’s title as having two meanings of the word: to assuredly provide support and humbly ask for assistance. Re-entering the world of art exhibition after years away involved some of both meanings.
He’d met Micol Hebron, owner of The Situation Room, many years ago, and the two became fast friends. Recently Kaufman posted on Instagram about his plate series that “no one seems interested from a professional point of view, yet I am compelled to continue making them.” Hebron responded immediately saying she would show them in a “heartbeat.” And so she has, in a garage/gallery space glowing with light, a space Kaufman says he feels honored to exhibit in.
With Kaufman’s daughter now ten, he’s unresolved as to what he is doing in the art world at present. “I was just at a foundry the other day casting a nine foot stainless steel sculpture. I have some obligation to physical objects. I am still building custom furniture for the house that we built. I am speaking at the USC Architecture school.” But the photographs are likely here to stay. “I love what I’m doing now.”
See what Kaufman does both at The Situation Room in Eagle Rock, and on Instagram at sethkaufmanart. His exhibition will be on view through April 30th, and a closing is being planned.