Chris Domenick by Patrick Gantert
A review of
Parenthesis by Chris Domenick
Louis B James

I typed ‘The Creeks’ into my browser but I didn’t actually use the quotation marks (I’m just using them for the sake of this review (which is actually less a review, more a project of sorts)). ‘The Creeks’ (henceforth referred to as The Creeks) is this compound/mansion/home in East Hampton that has pretty normal stationery, it’s a lot like hotel stationery. It’s a lot like hotel stationery that you write quick notes on or draw something while you are on the phone but on the phone not actually in the hotel, on the phone at home where you brought the pad of stationery to record notes that bear little or no relation to the hotel (which now has become a surrogate for any other place providing complimentary stationery) itself. Think Kippenberger, think your mom. 1

1. Somehow, it doesn’t come as an enormous surprise that Louis B James Gallery’s second show featured Ann Liv Young (in their upstairs AND downstairs mind you), the role playing performance ingenue of PS1-Klaus Biesenbach-turning-off-of-lights fame (she may have pissed there too). They’ve got a thing for provocative potentiality. Currently, they are trotting out Hunter College MFA candidate Chris Domenick in their main space and paintings by Nikki Katsikas underground. The latter is a fine display of (post) millenial(?) coping mechanisms and misunderstanding made manifest; Her paintings are actually pretty stellar (dude/bro/homey). The former is something different. Something that, on the surface, feels quite astute and overwhelmingly on trend. Sculptures, paintings, sculptural paintings, and, gasp, ‘wall tattoos’ that ‘...weaves through ideas of communication, language, mark making and the landscape.’. The trouble is that once you cut through the formal visage of relevancy, ‘Parenthesis’ reveals itself to be a confused, conceptually over burdened, and ultimately divided and conflicted show.

The Creeks is a mansion, like I said before. I Googled it or searched it or whatever and the second link was a Forbes article about millionaires, tours of millionaires places of residence and tours with them of the things they did (abstract things like plane-hopping and something involving helicopters, and art buying). The essence of affluence without substance (for my purposes here, read: meaning embedded within abstraction.). 2

2. As you walk into ‘Parenthesis’, you find yourself overwhelmed with form. Actual, physical form. Lets start with the sculptures, many bearing the title ‘Corporate Unit’ with a numbered modifier, are large (person sized) and overabundant in a less than pleasing way (I counted five if you include the weird, red Gary Hume kinda thing on the back wall as a sculpture, which I do and which the reasons for could fill another essay). The sculptures are gentle and dumb with any contingent signified existing in a realm of dubious and opaque provenance, which is strange given the fairly deliberate and stuffy titles. Staring into the high conceptual abyss of ‘Corporate Unit #0’ for instance, I was perversely reminded of Snuffleufugus(?). Perhaps the most overt form that emerges in this sculptural series (?) is found in ‘Corporate Unit #7’, a large lavender air slash that evokes quazi-mathematical nouns like quotient, sum, dividend, and price point. Frustratingly though, any glimpse of clarity in this piece is immediately obfuscated and muddled by the presence of everything else in the space. Purely by proximity, the work is shimmied into a goofy, forced meta-narrative cum artist myth (apparently these are ‘...letters from an unknown alphabet’). I’d argue that they are, at best, mediocre, formal abstraction experiencing an identity crisis and bogged down by elevated expectation.

There isn’t anything in the residence though. No magazines, no books, nothing to write on, and barely anything to sit on. The walls are bare and the few people inside are despondent. 3

3. This leads to a bigger picture question that gets at the root of what is problematic in ‘Parenthesis’, a failure to allow Domenick’s work to breathe and use abstract formalism and its latent engagement with history as a conceptual strategy. Granted, the show is incredibly overcrowded as a result of poor editing (the fleur de li ‘wall tattoos’ are really just kind of loafing around and the ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ business envelope is a sour note), but there is subtle, interesting work in this mess. The question is: does this work truly need to be propped up by the quazi-mythology narrative that is put upon it? The answer, in the author’s opinion, is definitely not. More than simply forcing a kind of character creation, Domenick seems to be reaching for a meta-engagement with other artists and places containing a historical presence that he (or someone else) would hope to conjure in his work. At the outset, this notion is actually kind of interesting and feels like a worthwhile investigation that marries research and material in a way that becomes incredibly physical and almost time based. Knowing that the artist has been to a Maine based slate quarry then imbues the slate ‘etchings’ with a different kind of presence, they are tied to the land and become elemental rather than commercial. The press release also mentions Domenick venturing to Walden Pond, a naturalist’s mecca if there ever was one. Sales babble like ‘...drawings with an indexical relationship to the landscape’ aside, Domenick almost gets to a spiritual point with some of these smaller works. A drawing that alludes to Smithson’s Little Fort Island titled ‘Little Fort Fictions’ feels a bit heavy handed but gets to the point regardless. Unfortunately, I’m betting that a lot of this subtlety will get lost in translation even on repeated viewings. Which is truly a shame because with a little restraint and careful editing (I’d remove almost 50% of this show), he’d be onto something. The appropriation of alternate, historical, and pre-existing narrative within his work makes for a weird alchemy that pushes into new conceptual territory, like if Gedi Sibony was really into the Slow Food movement and, I don’t know, like freeganism or something.

Unfortunately, this show is paradoxically under-developed and over worked at once. The minute you think you’ve maybe found an ideological fulcrum, another one pops up next to it and sends you into a tailspin. It’s incredibly hard to tell what Domenick is really about, the large sculptures seem to crave a socio-political read peppered with some OWS sympathizing (empathizing?) for good measure. As mentioned, one is reminiscent of abstract economics, maybe alluding to the Wall Street crisis(?) (‘Corporate Unit #7’). Another (and maybe this is a really smart and funny self-deprecating move by Domenick and I’m an idiot) is reminiscent of a penis caught between soft and hard (‘Corporate Unit #4’). Between the aforementioned, somewhat interesting historical appropriations and the clunkier ‘Corporate’ sculptures, ‘Parenthesis’ truly generates a divide. When I started this review, I was really convinced that I hated the show, that Domenick’s work was essentially a void painted over with whatever felt current (a notion I’ve not completely abandoned) but through the process of writing, I’ve learned that there is a bit more. In my opinion, ‘Parenthesis’ suffers the effects of too much too soon and is something of a squandered opportunity. However, some of the work here is (I think) incredibly prescient and simply needs better editing and some time to marinate. That said, I look forward to Chris’ work in the next year and you should too.