Just inside the door during Andy Coolquitt’s recent show, a rolled-up length of foam offered a comfortable seat. Leaning against the walls, as if ready to be picked up and used, were a broom handle, a table leg and some wooden slats. Stretching wall to wall near the ceiling was a pole made of broom handles. None of these was an artwork; rather, they were supplementary to the works on view. Some, Cooley explained to me, might become works. Others are found objects that look much like Coolquitt’s bricolage sculptures. Declining to label the latter group readymades, the artist prefers to call them “somebody-mades.” The dense installation, which packed into one small room almost two dozen artworks (all created since 2008) and as many other objects, lent a casual air to already playful sculptures that incorporate discarded cigarette lighters (many found at crack-smoking havens, according to Claire Barliant’s catalogue essay), plastic and metal pipe, zip-lock bags and the like.
A number of the works incorporate functioning lightbulbs, some situated on poles built from segments of variously colored metal, so they have the look of a rough-edged Andre Cadere sculpture having a bright idea. “Lamps” may be a misnomer, though: two works that sport bulbs lack power cords; the working bulbs are of low wattage, and they sometimes rest on the floor, minimizing functionality. Coolquitt’s “lamps” serve better as metaphors for function (or dysfunction), warmth, illumination and inspiration.
The show’s title, “We Care About You,” not only spoofs customer-service language but also evokes the artist’s hope that his work can provide assistance and comfort—a hope rooted in Allan Kaprow’s philosophy that any human activity can be art, and by Coolquitt’s own stint as a social worker. Perhaps the clearest embodiment of this sentiment is A nice soft place for meeting people, a velour-covered pad, about a foot thick and three feet to a side, that hangs on the wall, inviting one to lean against it. This and other works recall the fabric paintings of Blinky Palermo, who, as Barliant points out, aspired to be a decorator as much as an artist. Other objects, if used, would prove unwieldy at best. Against a wall in the back room was a 12-foot-long piece of rebar with a crayon taped perpendicularly to its middle: a tool for two people to draw together, each holding one end. Any attempt at use would doubtless be comically awkward, as with Franz West’s “Adaptives”—ungainly, manipulable sculptures that tend to highlight the pathos of the human condition.
While he hopes art can provide succor, Coolquitt is hardly pious. Chair consists of a thin slat of wood that rests against the wall, with a wooden hand, its third finger extended, attached at about the height where it might provide a (painful) perch. Taken together, Coolquitt’s work strikes a chord that combines the comfy foam stool by the door and the middle-finger seat: solicitous but often sardonic, it’s somewhere between a friendly pat on the back and a rude finger up the ass.
Photo: View of Andy Coolquitt’s exhibition “We Care About You,” 2010; at Lisa Cooley.