FLIP THROUGH YOURSELF An interactive show, of sorts, this one requires handling the art.
If Andy Warhol focused on pop artifacts at the beginning of their shelf lives, Alex da Corte is an artist obsessed with their deathbeds. In a provocative summer show at the ICA, saturated with garish colors and kitschy bric-a-brac, da Corte coats Pop Art aesthetic with an almost unbearably sugar-rotten glaze, all while raising tricky questions about intimacy, memory, and American sociocultural fabric.
The exhibit is titled "Fun Sponge," a slang term for someone whose very presence siphons the life from the party. That's a very practical definition of the unpopular — worse, in fact, because the impact of a fun sponge extends beyond its subject, souring the popular goings-on around it. And while it's totally possible to leave da Corte's show with your spirits lowered, it's not for lack of eye candy or quality of ideas.
It's a characteristic of modern life that what is depressing isn't always synonymous with what is drab. Boredom can lurk behind a surfeit of stimuli just as often as it does a drought. Many of us have learned this from the internet, and its endless supply chain of images ranging from disposable, promotional, or tweaked beyond real-world representation. But mass quantity, low-utility objects, as "Fun Sponge" reminds us, have been in our lives much longer.
Da Corte, a sculpture artist born in 1981 now living in New York, has stuffed a trove of them inside a couple dozen large metal frames encased in Plexiglas. They lean against (rather than hang upon) the gallery walls and lay in small piles on its floor — a floor covered by a salmon-pink carpet that extends, like a halfpipe, two-thirds up the wall. Furthermore, the frames are stacked against one another, like records in a crate. To see them all, visitors must manage the uneasy task of handling — literally browsing — through them. It's a cross between Pee Wee's Playhouse and a liquidation sale at a strip mall.
All of da Corte's images and materials are comprised of found or collected items: posters of swimsuit models, earplugs, novelty socks with pictures of '90s NBA players, neon-colored leggings, CD covers, aluminum foil, Disney hats, etc. Interestingly, few if any of them are "broken" — but they've all clearly outlived their application. Da Corte arranges them in assemblages of abstract visual fields in wonderfully tacky and sickly-sweet arrangements without any clear narrative order. Eye-popping colors and distorted shapes override symbolic value or cultural significance. A toy snake slithers up on a pattern of packaged American cheese slices, and while it's tempting to take that as some sort of a riddle, it's probably best just to appreciate the poetics.
It's immediately clear that da Corte is playing with a low-grade aesthetic. And along with the show's concomitant questions of how to display contemporary art in a gallery, it also conjures distinct notions of class. (Who buys cheap stuff? The poor, that's who!) And though da Corte has intimated in past interviews that he finds a certain beauty in this sort of American cultural detritus, it's inarguably not the sort of beauty that lasts.