Out Of The Black

Originally published April 20, 2010 by CityArts

“Black Teddy Iconic,” by Matt Campbell.

“Black Teddy Iconic,” by Matt Campbell.

If you like your art dark—well, cuddly and dark—then Out of the Black, an odd yet beautiful show at gallery hanahou, will satisfy nicely. The exhibition, by New Zealand artist Matt Campbell, hits a nerve with its combination of elegance and creepiness.

Campbell has collected a group of bedraggled stuffed animals and soaked them in some unspecified jet-black substance. According to the gallery, Campbell refuses to say what it is. The resulting toys look as if they have been dipped in tar.

The creatures are shiny and oily looking, though not to the touch. Their cute “furriness” is now stiffened permanently into awkward clumps and tufts. They remind me of pictures of birds caught in an oil slick; they don’t look dead, so much as frozen in time—although those cute little button eyes still twinkle back at you. And yet, there is an arresting beauty to these critters. Campbell has mounted them tastefully on posts, on shiny lacquered wood. They are presented like elegant specimens in a museum. Mounted with tiny magnets, they are designed to be removed from their posts, as if to be played with by the complicit viewer. When returned, they snap back onto their mounts in a crisp and satisfying way. The presentation is exquisite. Black animals mounted on white wall plaques line the gallery. Two perfectly placed creatures are mounted on black-on-black, just because it looks so good.

Campbell has written a statement about the work that links his vision to rampant consumerism, mankind’s disregard for the environment and “throwaway” culture. To me, the statement is an unfortunate detraction from the work. Shoehorning these fascinating and compelling sculptures into a political statement feels a little forced. My advice would be to skip the statement and enjoy this show in all of its elegant, creepy beauty.
Through April 30. gallery hanahou, 611 Broadway, Ste. 730, 646-486-6586.

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