The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

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MAY 2012 Issue


Charles McGill’s exhibition at the Phatory is a series of golf club bags dissected by the artist and resewn to make abstract sculptures of people. Recognizable features of the golf bags remain intact—the zippers, pockets, clasps, and straps have been repurposed as details on the figures. Bag straps, for instance, serve as blindfolds placed across the eyes of characters. All of this gives the sculptures the feeling of commercial products, and the loungy gallery space seems to fit right in with the other boutiques in the East Village.

Charles McGill, “The Defiant Ones – To the Gallows,” 2011, Re-assembled golf bag part of wood panel, 4’x4’x16”. Image courtesy the artist.
On View
The Phatory
April 7 – May 26, 2012
New York

Upon closer inspection, however, the pieces on view aren’t luxury products at all. McGill’s sculptures carry a much more personal and social message than is seen upon first glance. A blatantly racial statement is made by leather hoods that cover the “heads” of the golf club bags, resembling the pointed hoods worn by Ku Klux Klansmen.

McGill’s creepy characters stand beside one another, some grabbing each other, some holding axes or clubs. In one work, a head sits at ground level, apparently decapitated. The figural scenes seem narrative, yet it is hard to discern exactly what is going on. In “The Defiant Ones/To The Gallows” (2011), for example, two blindfolded golf bags hug a central figure, also blindfolded. The blindfolds are tethered to the base of the sculpture, which hangs on the wall, causing the figures to appear strapped to the wall. The Klan members wear the blindfolds, yet they are also the ones strapped down. It’s uncertain whether the blindfolds symbolize oppression or the blindness of oppressors—perhaps both. Regardless of one’s interpretation, the work creates an overall feeling of terror—of being trapped.

The pieces at the Phatory that deviate from this style offer the strongest clues of McGill’s intent. Another golf bag sculpture, “The Saga of the Mulatto” (2010), is neither dissected nor hung on the wall. It stands upright and intact in the center of the gallery floor. Its surface is covered in a collage of political and pop culture icons, with a focus on people of mixed race as well as interracial couples. William Shatner appears with a black character from Star Trek; also present are assorted blonde babes, George Washington, a man with vitiligo, and, most prominently, Tiger Woods.

“The Saga of the Mulatto” also offers some of the artist’s most direct verbal statements. “My Eyes! My Daughter in a Black Man’s Arms!” reads one strip of text, a quotation from a poster advertising a vaudeville show about a white woman’s love affair with a black man. Another reads, “I’ve never thought of you as black because you’re only half black.” Here, the artist examines pop culture’s tendency toward portraying multiracial people, as the artist’s Flickr page describes, “provocatively not genuinely.”

 McGill’s work demands contemplation from the viewer. Even with a close reading, it remains mysterious. However, the torn apart and restitched sculptures are cathartic, and the collages reveal some of the more subtle incidents of racism in American culture.


Dan Tarnowski


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

All Issues