“Disharmony in Blue and Gold”
The Lodge Gallery, New York, NY
By CASSIE CUMMINS, SEPT. 2014
Kent Henricksen’s solo show, “Disharmony In Blue and Gold”, currently up at The Lodge Gallery in New York's LES, takes its name and form from “Harmony In Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room” by James McNeill Whistler, permanently housed in the Freer Gallery of Art. In his own room, Henricksen maintains the blue/gold color scheme, and there is slight reference to The Peacock Room’s manner of displaying objects (specifically ceramics), but Henricksen uses the skeleton of The Peacock Room mostly as a venue for frustrating the routine of traditional artistic fabrications.
For this very all-consuming installation, the walls of the gallery are painted a midnight blue, overlaid with stenciled, gold star-like dots (thanks to the assistance of Henricksen’s six year old son). Dark blue, screen printed canvasses line the walls as well, depicting what are troubling visual narratives. Henricksen’s ceramic face jugs, a recent project of his, float throughout the room, impaled by golden stakes that rise up out of the floor. It is in reference to the Peacock Room’s golden shelving units, which Henricksen appropriated for the sake of offsetting customary means of displaying decorative art; it wasn’t until the recent beheadings of American journalists that this move took on new meaning for Henricksen.
What is the final iteration of the canvasses hanging on the gallery’s walls, were originally bred out of commercially printed fabrics that Henricksen found, decorated with playful, pop-rococo imagery of peasants flitting about idyllic landscapes. These ready-constructed cloths then evolved into silk-screened linen of Henricksen’s own making, in which he retains the same figures but has cloaked them and altered their interactions. Henricksen does so using embroidery technique to stitch masks over the faces of his characters, evoking in the viewer any number of subconscious references from the Islamic burqa, to a nun’s habit, to the hoods worn by the KKK, to the classic sheet-like depiction of a ghost (he leaves this open to interpretation).
When Henricksen first began toying with embroidery in his work, a traditionally decorative sort of folk-medium, artist Louise Bourgeois became a great influence of his. Bourgeois, who worked in her parents’ tapestry shop, would cut up and re-stitch cloths, covering up genitals and other “inappropriate” imagery of the sort. “I started thinking my work would be to fix her fixes. I thought I could change what people were expecting to see or thought was appropriate—I wanted to express what was really happening around us in the world, not an idealized one,” Henricksen says. He employs a bit of humor in his pieces as well, stitching stuck-out tongues over the mouths of angels on a few of the canvasses, for instance.
In three of the larger canvases hanging in the show, Henricksen meditates on the Trimurti —a Hindu concept in which the cosmic phenomena of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by three gods. Each piece has a creator, usually a figure in the company of a child or children; a destroyer, a figure who is taking a physically aggressive action; and a maintainer, usually an angel that surveys the balance of creation and destruction. For this exhibition, Henricksen says, “I wanted to consider how a cyclical, or a repetitive or recurrent theme could be the basis for the imagery—for this set of embroidered paintings. The pieces are basically mandalas—the Trimurti reinforces this idea.”
This “balance of disturbance”, as Henricksen calls it—a kind of yin and yang notion—circles right back around to the gold mural of the fighting peacocks in The Peacock Room, which the artist, James McNeil Whistler, named “Art and Money; or The Story of the Room.”
A smaller scale continuation of “Disharmony in Blue and Gold” will appear at The Lodge Gallery’s stand in the NADA art fair, which runs concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach during the first week of December.
All of Henricksen’s work in the second chapter of the show will be new pieces. Co-founder and director of The Lodge Gallery, Jason Patrick Voegele says, “I'm curious to discover just how much context shifts audience perspective. It's a great opportunity to experiment and we are all really thankful to NADA for recognizing Kent's uniquely universal visual language.” WM
Cassie Cummins is a writer in New York City.