Jessi Reaves

New York

at Bridget Donahue


For this debut solo exhibition, Oregon-born, New York–based artist Jessi Reaves demonstrated her omnivorous approach to making sculptural furniture, offering viewers an assortment of pieces that incorporate materials ranging from plywood to car parts to yellow upholstery foam to driftwood. Reaves treats furniture making as her primary expression, creating pieces that are, as the late artist Scott Burton once wrote of Brancusi’s furniture, “not only functional objects but also representations of functional objects.” There is something subtly apocalyptic about Reaves’s work: the way every scrap and shred of refuse is somehow incorporated into the making of another piece suggests a diminishing supply. Dried accretions of wood glue and sawdust that had been mixed together to create a molding paste cling to many of the furniture’s surfaces like wasps’ nests. 

Most of the pieces on view had clear functions (sitting, displaying, lighting), but some were more ambiguous. The six-foot-tall Night Cabinet (Little Miss Attitude), 2016, for instance, is a jagged, roughly leaf-shaped structure that has been sheathed in shimmery black silk, rendering its interior shelves largely inaccessible. Hand-sewn details include an embroidered rosette and several zippers left unzipped to reveal the plywood construction inside. Various iterations of wrapping, binding, and leatherwork in the show suggested a fetish sensibility. In Bad House Shelf (2016)—one of the most overtly sculptural works presented—a cylindrical tube is wrapped in black leather and pinned behind a series of tiered plywood shelves. Additional components include a gnarled driftwood branch twisting upward from the bottom portion of the unit, and a roughly cut plywood backing, with red marker lines showing the places where incisions were meant to be made. 

Engine Room Shelving (Recollection Wedding Edition), 2015, is a knobby freestanding O-shaped structure with three shelves running across it and with a large bowlike finial on top. The wood and foam framework is wrapped in pearlescent vinyl-mesh cloth that has been aggressively stapled into place. Dog’s Stick Lamp (2016) is a towering mantid form. Its body is a nearly eight-foot-long piece of driftwood, around which the lamp’s electrical cord winds, entering and exiting several bored holes. The head/lampshade is made from a steel armature over which green-and-black harlequin-patterned fabric is stretched.

Though Reaves references mid-twentieth-century masters like Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Philip Johnson, she rejects the elegant finish of their work in favor of a more provisional approach, nodding to tradition but playfully transgressing it. When I visited the show, the gallery was filled with the scent of incense and cannabis, which had wafted in from a nearby apartment. The heady aroma was a perfect olfactory complement to Reaves’s gnarly, tactile creations.