On ViewWestbeth Gallery
April 21 – May 27, 2022
It’s challenging to present an interdisciplinary group show where individual pieces make up a rational whole. Bungalow’s second nomadic exhibition in Westbeth Artist Housing’s gallery space manages this difficult task, successfully taking a varied yet coherent curatorial approach. Fifteen artists are featured with minimal contextualization, encouraging organic connections to develop between objects. A relaxed but never lazy interplay of ideas, embracing conceptual art, interior design, fashion, and still life, exists in an harmonious display of seemingly disparate works.
Founded in 2021, Bungalow is a roving collaborative curatorial project undertaken by Saria Sakka, Quinn Schoen, and Abigail Tisch—with all three members contributing to the group’s varied interests. When walking through Westbeth’s four-room gallery, it’s initially hard to distinguish thematic partitions, but it eventually becomes clear that each room accomplishes something specific. The first gallery has the largest area and presents work that effectively utilizes the ample space. Cairo-based designer Don Tanani’s furniture is a primary focal point, with three large pieces in the room. The designer’s 6-foot-long undulating bench titled Ouroboros Special (2022) consists of oakwood black-and-blue-grained parallel tubes, sitting irresistibly between function and form. Tanani also contributes a sensual wooden console with winged hand-carved oak inlays mounted on the wall, which set the tone for a homey feeling throughout the exhibition. I couldn’t help but imagine the pleasure of putting my keys on the surface of such a beautiful object after returning home.
By contrast, a series of large repetitive paintings in the back of the first room has “The Whitney Biennial 2022” painted in different bombastic and gaudy colors with identical 3D bubble letter typography. The tacky aesthetic of these images seems like a nostalgic throwback to bad early 2000s pop culture design. They remind us, too, of Westbeth’s geographic proximity to the Whitney, whose 2022 Biennial is currently on view. With six 40-by-50-inch special editions on display next to one another, these lighthearted yet conceptual works by Thomas Blair read like a cheeky Warholesque meditation on the redundant and frequently formulaic nature of regularly recurring exhibitions or art fairs.
The playful nature of Blair’s work carries into the second room, where Louis Osmosis’s crude stainless-steel sculpture of a beached whale anchors the middle of the room. Beached (2022) features a rusted patina and has an almost human scale, making it endearingly sympathetic, posed on the wooden floors of the gallery. A backward-moving LED text display is also hidden in a square mirrored cavity in the stomach of the sculpture, the difficult-to-read bright red text adding a surprising allure to the work. Surrounding the whale are charcoal drawings and oil paintings by Idris Salaam, which feature sketchy renderings of hazy figures in ambiguous scenes that are similarly hard to pin down. Ostinato (2022) breaks this illegibility with a clear and calming top-down oil painting of a snow angel. Salaam’s delicate use of the lightest whites and blues simulates the experience of passing such an angel on the street just after a fresh blanket of snow. The works included in the second room juxtapose the static mass of Osmosis’s grounded sculpture and the dynamism found in the rough sketchiness of Salaam’s hanging two-dimensional works—but all suggest ambiguous narratives that resist easy explanation.
The domestic experience is prominently featured in the third gallery, which accords well with Westbeth’s historical role as a provider of affordable housing and studio spaces for artists since the 1970. During my visit, the room had a clothing rack full of trendy wares that looked like they were for sale. This trunk show was left out after an educational panel discussion put on by Bungalow, where participants were given NFTs for discounts and behind-the-scenes information on the clothing. The shop was set against a beautiful ceramic lamp by Shane Gabier, an impasto multi-color grid painting with tactile pigment buildups from Abby Robinson, and a circular curved oak chair by Don Tanani. On the opposite wall we find Aniza-Imán Íñiguez’s large-scale, luscious, and otherworldly painting of an orange set against a calm blue mountain horizon, and an ethereal airbrush rendering of a lily by Takayuki Fukuda. The unusual combination of clothing, furniture, and still life painting creates an inviting sense of ease and tranquility that testifies to the breadth of Bungalow’s curatorial aims.
The final room displays work by the Lebanese ceramicist Lina Shamma with vessels sitting on plinths in the gallery’s center and ceramic mirrors hung on the walls. These reflective surfaces are beautifully bordered by glazed and fired clay. A row of individual hand mirrors on one wall, for example, each have unique handles adorned with delicate ceramic floral borders. Here, Shamma’s craft embraces the imperfect in handmade earthenware's wonderfully uneven contours. One hanging mirror was wrapped in clay with rows of holes removed from the surface to reveal portions of the mirror in uneven circular shapes underneath. The honeycomb-like arrangement of the circles created a fractured and mesmerizing reflection.
While continuing the emphasis on design and domesticity seen throughout the exhibition, the arrangement of Shamma’s work felt like its own solo show. It even featured a unique wall label and title not present in the other rooms, which explained that this portion of the exhibition was done in collaboration with House of Today, a non-profit that helps support Lebanese designers. While it certainly did not detract from the elegant craft of Shamma’s ceramics, the difference in presentation stepped away from the exhibition’s pattern of presenting diverse artworks together with little context. This decision seemed like a significant deviation from Bungalow’s generous curatorial decision to avoid the hand-holding often found in exhibition didactics. Despite this, Bungalow’s second show offered a distinctly rewarding experience through an abundance of vibrant works that, despite their wide range, clearly articulate the distinct identity of the collaborative curatorial project.