Dorota and Steve Coy: The Five Realms
Adrian Wong: Tiles, Grates, Poles, Rocks, Plants, and Veggies
March 13 - August 15, 2020
By LAUREN LEVATO COYNE, July 2020
Wasserman Projects has a curatorial penchant for combining the works of two or more distinct artists or collaborative groups into a singular, dynamic gallery experience. The Five Realms by Dorota and Steve Coy and Tiles, Grates, Poles, Rocks, Plants, and Veggies by Adrian Wong is another one of the gallery’s two-equals-one presentations. For this show in particular it’s worth noting that WP began planning it in 2015, long before epidemiology became a collective household concern, our sense of temporal agency was leveled, and our landscapes became a merry-go-round perspective.
Adrian Wong’s work leads the show, setting the theatricality of these exhibitions with temporal themes. Vivid, shifting technicolor Rock Stacks sprout plastic plants, bananas, and romaine lettuces. These red and green based technicolors always hold a specific dated-ness while still being conceptually married to “the future.” Yet it’s also a sort of revivalism given the Millennial inclination toward green/pink and pink/orange color combinations. Both his subject and palette are historical; though Wong is presently based in Chicago he lived in Hong Kong for 13 years. Vintage photos of the now defunct Tiger Balm Garden inspired these fantastical rocks that are at once humorous and a grim rock-candy-land reminder of America’s own urban food deserts. His adjacent geometric wall works take the patterning of sewer grates, the brickwork of garden paths, and the motifs of gated entryways all of which aid a sense of moving through a place while being anchored in a time.
The first of the Coy’s Five Realms comes next. We are met with a dark green metallic 10-point-buck-headed-therianthrope and his nine diagrammatic/map drawings. The composite human is familiar, almost overly so in the now saturated genre of art with animal heads. Around the corner is the second realm, The Black Forest, a partial room lined with bare tree branches finished matte black. Felled tree-side is a rhinoceros, gilded and trapped mid-melt. The materials are stunning, luxurious, fashionable. It’s also sterile. There’s no grit or grime, no remains of a real forest to suggest the place that has been burnt down. We house it in our minds because we already know it: the Amazon, Siberia, Australia, Democratic Republic of Congo, the US West Pacific States. As evocative as the room was at its entrance, upon exiting it feels exactly as its title suggests—The Nature of Commodity.
The Third Realm features a 10’ tall, robin’s egg blue, ram-headed therianthrope. The scale is impressive, the color is delicate, even soothing. It’s difficult to find authority or mesmerization in this or any of the other mythical composites as the backdrop of a microscopic virus looms too large. But so do the very real ideas the Coys present in the rest of the show. In this it is their Fourth and Fifth realms that are the most reflective and relevant.
The Fourth Realm is a museum hallway of objects cast in stoneware and glazed. They are reminiscent of Daniel Arsham’s Future Relic Excavation Set if the relics were found and cataloged by an actual paleontologist. Where Arsham’s relics are slick and polished products these are clearly made (mined) by hand. The staging of the items, which include a juice box straw, camera lens, plastic fork, crushed plastic water bottle, etc., effectively pulls from natural history museum displays to present what the artists propose will be relics found “10,000 years in the future.” Yet they are very much a portrait of now, items quickly bought and discarded, given relic status as fast as they were produced. It’s a challenge to imagine 10,000 years into the future when each day shifts so quickly and most days we can’t fathom what tomorrow might look like.
The Fifth Realm, the Hygienic Dress League Corporation boutique, moves into the time the Coys have been speculating about since at least 2007 when the duo registered HDLC as a Michigan corporation. Upon entering the staged storefront, a mirrored model on a mirrored pedestal greets us in her mirrored respirator and goggles. Beyond her the items offered are rhinestone bedazzled respirators in three color ways, generic-but-shiny canned provisions of air, water, and food, and a three panel reproduction of a window view with an endless, perfect sunny summer sky. In other words it’s the COVID-19 pandemic. It is especially the pandemic of Instagram where the masks are custom, the canned food is flawless, and the same window view is on repeat. It’s viewfinder perfect. Per Article III of the HDLC’s Article’s of Incorporation, the Corporation is “organized is to engage in performance art the subject of which is the corporate form itself,” which ranges from street art, performances, interventions, stock offerings at $0, and filing $0 earned on their annual taxes.
Whatever viewers may have seen on March 13, the original opening date of the show and the day Michigan began imposing closures and restrictions on schools and businesses, it can’t be seen now. It’s hard not to speculate on what this show would have been, what would have held more or less focus before or without the pandemic. Speculating on what might have been had it been the way you thought it was going to be is the task of fools riding in the seat of nostalgia. Speculating on possible futures seems equally foolhardy but at least there’s the possibility of getting it frighteningly right as the Coys have in many moments of The Five Realms.
The exhibitions are on view in person by appointment through August 15, 2020. Check the gallery for virtual tours and events at wassermanprojects.com. WM
Lauren Levato Coyne is an American artist and writer based in Detroit. Lauren’s drawings and mixed media works have appeared on more than a dozen book and journal covers. She earned her MFA in painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art and her degrees in writing and women’s studies from Purdue University and in political journalism from Georgetown University. She has taught and lectured at The Field Museum of Natural History, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Georgia State University and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago among others. Find her on instagram @laurenlevatocoyne or online at laurenlevatocoyne.com.view all articles from this author