Darren Bader has been quietly and sublimely redefining the artist-as-curator archetype for almost a decade now with a flurry of challenging exhibitions in New York, L.A., London and Tokyo. With the new works in his latest show, “Chad Ochocinco,” the upstart has matured delicately with a tour de force for the overeducated yet sadly passionless Facebook generation. Bader’s curatorial flow is employed as both an antidote to the self-congratulatory big ideas of Conceptual art and an alternative to the snarky strategies of the early 2000s.
The specter of America’s scourge of eating disorders looms over Proposal for Filling a Swimming Pool with Couscous. The work utilizes a rather banal architectural model of a large home with a backyard pool, which the artist has filled with couscous. Bader might make you smile, thinking of the possibilities on a large scale, but he considers the bloated actuality no joke; “the potential to make the proposal a reality” was included on the gallery’s checklist among the materials. A careful look at Virginia, a collaboration with the artist Ara Dymond, revealed the expiration date on the personalized condoms, which rested along with a pineapple and a grapefruit on a shaky table with ridiculously skinny green legs, to be close to the natural expiration of the fruit’s diminishing freshness-in fact, the produce might very well have outlasted the prophylactics.
In Proposal for Barbara Hepworth’s Two Segments and Sphere, the gesture of pouring extra-virgin olive oil on a slab of marble as an homage to Hepworth’s seminal 1935–36 sculpture easily evokes Rome in all its architectural and gastronomical glory—and certainly made me want reach for a hunk of bread to start sopping up the golden liquid. What at first glance may have seemed like a graciously earnest routine that perhaps verged on the obscurely juvenile was, on further reflection, a radically hilarious act of art-making, much like the humorous and defiant act of reinvention by NFL star receiver Chad Ochocinco (née Johnson), who changed his name to an idiomatically incorrect Spanish translation of his jersey number. In addition to titling the show after the football star, Bader further plays on Ochocinco’s rebranding by affixing an image of a white T-shirt to a photograph of a classical male sculpture, the number 85 scrawled in Magic Marker just above the marble genitals.
Living in the gallery among the various sculptures and framed works were two adorable goats. The fact that they were available for purchase startled one back into the reality of a commercial exhibition. As Duchamp before him fully repossessed a manufactured item as if by a magical act of alchemy, Bader creates a new breed of readymade that pushes the envelope in terms of signature style and integrity. By using his own name in the title of a work by John Wesley (Darren Bader’s Blue Blanket by John Wesley), who strives for a signature look, Bader playfully yet cunningly calls into question the very notion of originality in a marketplace that seems to place a higher value on cleverness than quality.
Darren Bader: Proposal for Filling a Swimming Pool with Couscous, architectural model with couscous, the potential to make the proposal a reality, 53 x 21 3/8 x 25 1/4 inches. Courtesy Andrew Kreps.