Grass Grows in the Guggenheim: Phoebe Washburn’s Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow
Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow
Through October 14th
Phoebe Washburn has transformed the Deutsche Guggenheim into a ramshackle processing plant. What is she making? Grass.
Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow consists of two wooden structures: a greenhouse and factory. Seed beds germinate in the greenhouse. They are then transferred to the factory where flats of growing grass circle on a conveyor belt until they mature. What is Washburn doing with the grass? The locus of production is also the intended market. After reaching maturity the grass is placed on the roof of the installation where it withers and dies.
Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow lacks the eye-popping psychedelic panache of some of Washburn’s earlier installations. In her most formally restrained and systematic work to date Washburn veers away from the fervent expansionism of Sarah Sze and the sherbet palette she shares with Amy Sillman. Fool’s Milk is a humorous, engaging piece that incites discourse without being dry or heavy handed. Washburn has hobbled together the structure of a factory from art world detritus and other recycled materials. She uses the casing for rarified objects to shelter the production of a free and naturally existing “commodity” (Much of the wood has been gleaned from Guggenheim shipping crates).
Other traces of art world rarification are engrained into the structure of the Washburn’s recycled factory. Various cogs in the plant’s production—pencils, fabric, golf balls-- are presented for individual contemplation in plexi-glass vitrines. Washburn’s visual vocabulary abounds with gags. Is the artist presenting these objects in the jocular manner of an institutional display case or is she inviting us to engage with the objects formally? Or is she alienating each item from its use-value?
The vast array of merchandise available in the gift shop seems an odd accompaniment to an installation fashioned out of “recycled” objects. Viewers can purchased tote bags, coffee mugs, t-shirts, pencils and rub on tattoos among other sundry absurdities.
The gift shop initially felt like a betrayal. In retrospect, however, it seems like a poetic irony. While Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow has no market except itself, the exhibition is merchandised to the hilt. But not in a cheesy Impressionist magnet and coloring book sort of way. Washburn (or the Guggenheim or whatever brilliant person does their merchandising) is basically selling you the crap that lines your junk drawers already—sheets of stickers, errant golf balls and nubby pencils.
Jesi Khadivi is a curator and art critic based in Berlin. She regularly contributes writing about art, film, architecture and pop culture to Dazed and Confused and SOMA, among many other publications. She is also the director of Golden Parachutes, a contemporary art gallery in the Kreuzberg.