The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

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JUL-AUG 2013 Issue

NANCY LUPO Hats & Balls

On View
May 12 – June 23, 2013
New York

Nancy Lupo’s debut Brooklyn solo show has a video press release—no text. Quotes from the video press release are in italics.

There is a game of Ping Pong, back and forth, for hours, let’s say.Your eyes follow the ball.
You might know the players; you might not.
You might recognize them, but not know their names.
You might know the rules of Ping Pong, or you might not know anything.
The ball flies off the table.

Lupo made the sculptures for Hats & Balls in her father-in-law’s pool house in Los Angeles, where she and her husband live. A lot of the pieces in the show rest atop custom-trimmed towels, as Lupo placed her sculptures on the abundance of pool house towels after making them; after a while a strange symbiosis took place.

Nancy Lupo, "Rasta Dental," 2013. Old Tupperware nesting bowl, rubber balls and Magic Smooth, 10x5x10 "

Soloway is a bisected space with irregular walls. Lupo finishes every surface of her objects including the undersides, so perhaps unsurprisingly, she has also treated every surface of the space for the show. Custom towel-topped platforms were built, walls were finished, and the floor was painted grey and the ceiling white, by Lupo herself. The space starts to feel like a meta-sculpture, containing the objects, just as the objects themselves contain familiar store-bought objects, like pennies, cotton balls, and bubble wrap.

The front room is larger and displays a collection of objects on platforms that are adhered to the wall at irregular heights, and placed on a towel on the ground. The back room is smaller, featuring “Baby, Auntie, Holey” (all works 2013), which comprises two bright yellow Rubbermaid BRUTE containers with penny-sized holes punched into them all over, and “That, Those,” a cluster of objects made of polyurethane foam and Magic Sculpt and covered with ultramarine flocking skin, displayed in a terry cloth towel. (Terry cloth is a very pool house kind of towel).

The work is made, although many elements are found or bought at the store. The forms are familiar.
Cliché says that familiarity breeds contempt, but really, what is familiar?
I think it’s more that familiarity breeds abstraction, and abstractions, like negative hallucinations, often don’t register as anything. The more you look at something, the less you know what you are looking at.
In Ping Pong, when the ball flies off the table, I like to picture the table falling away like rocket boosters.
To be clear, this is not a journey into outer space. It is the constant transformation of the form.

All of Lupo’s sculptures incorporate objects bought at the store. No component looks old or used, banishing any sort of nostalgia local to the objects, though free associations abound.

None of Lupo’s sculptures have a singularly obvious function. The functional objects they contain are covered in resin—bizarro future-organs for these outlandish creatures. This is a departure from Lupo’s earlier objects, which were overtly functional—chairs, couches, and bowls, as opposed to chair-like, couch-like, bowl-like—in order to “resist destruction,” she tells me. “Kind of like the way that a Shih Tzu relies on its cuteness to stay protected by humans, or the way that mitochondria were allowed to become part of a cell’s structure because of their ability to convert useful energy.” These new sculptures, then, resist destruction by remaining uncategorizable, by allowing the potential of their function to shift over time, long past the moment when they no longer match a collector’s drapes. Perhaps transgressively, the yellow tubs could contain dirty laundry, for example, or paper waste. Is this the antithesis of the readymade?

One of Lupo’s pieces looks like a mitochondrion, actually. “Regular Old Ocean,” the size of a miniature shield, is a polyurethane foam, silk-screened papier-mâché and Magic Smooth form, pastel yellow in color and encrusted with ball chain, foil balls in a meandering line, and guru cricket balls sunk deep into green baby food cups, sunk deep into the form. The object, platformed (atop a custom-cut, terry cloth towel) at about head-height, looks alive and intimately familiar, but also alien. It really looks like a giant mitochondrion: squiggles, spots and all. It also looks like a foot-massager, or a spotty tongue, or a bumpy body board, or a sensory diet comfort toy for a very aloof child.

These objects are like refrigerators: very physical, with a lot of presence, connoting comfort and familiarity. They contain objects that have nourished us or surrounded us—quinoa, hats, tennis balls, rodent food—but the sculptures themselves, much like a refrigerator, are un-hugged. Each sculpture is a favorite relative who, though affectionate, generous and stylish as hell, rarely hugs her nieces and nephews. Contributing to this effect of remove is an abundance of resin—of clear solidity, of materials that are toxic to breathe in when working—full of smart parts that might choke a child under three. In “Big Gulp,” a glass is filled to the brim with cotton balls set in minty-blue epoxy resin, while “Tummy, Hat, Hole” is a baby-bather filled with objects sunk into a deeper blue epoxy resin. I had to resist the urge to lick these resin surfaces many times.

The thing about ordinary objects that is suspicious is their ordinariness.
In other words, the more you look at something the less you know what you’re looking at.
I’ve found that this is also true of language. If you repeat a word over and over again, its meaning becomes less stable and certain.
So, it is as much about the objects as the way you move around them. It is as much about the things you see, as the things they might make you think of. It is as much about what you’re experiencing in the moment, as what you remember later on.

In the moment, the back room installation conjured my grandparents’s pool room, filled with a giant turquoise pool, towels, plastic seats, and surrounded on two sides by glass, looking out onto a rainforest valley and the mountains beyond. Later on, my body remembers the dimensions of the smallish back room in relation to Lupo’s objects, and it reminds me of the laundry room of my childhood home—a strange little room, like this one, where there were always towels, and also a chalkboard with fat, colorful pieces of chalk, and little plastic bowls full of cat food on the ground.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

All Issues