Walking into Adam Green’s Houseface exhibit (through August 25) is like walking into a Chuck-E-Cheese designed by Piet Modrian—a Chuck-E-Cheese with Macaulay Culkin and a bunch of indie rock stars splashing around in the ball-pit. And while we’re at it, replace those rubber balls with PBR cans (all of which were BYOB).
The whitewashed walls of the Bowery gallery The Hole were thickly furnished with the bright, cubed paintings by Green, most famous as the lackadaisical troubadour half of the Moldy Peaches. But over the last few years, Green has directed his strange brand of folksy man-child swagger to visual art. His first New York show, Teen Tech, opened in 2010 at the Morrison Hotel and featured neon renderings of mutant ninja turtles and papier-mâché monuments to Garfield. “I was pretty early with the whole neon trip,” the artist joked when asked about Houseface’s more primary-color palette. “It’s everywhere now.” More recently, Green launched Cartoon & Complaint, a show at Dustin Yellin’s Red Hook space The Intercourse, which featured warped, mutant-ified renderings of Elmo, Big Bird and Green’s favorite muse, Garfield.
Inspired by these subjects (and by Mondrian and the scandinavian De Stijl art movement), Green began breaking down the characters into cubic elements and painting imaginary buildings, with building blocks made of Big Bird’s tongue or Garfield’s hooded eyes. Green’s architectural vision is a combination of high and low aesthetics; while reminiscent of Gaudi, he gestures to a painting of a Garfield monolith and says “this one was inspired by the projects.” Although the show features several constructions, including a mammoth totem pole of Big Bird, Green shrugs off the suggestion that he actually try his hand at collaborating on a real building. “I only really came up with the concept in the last six weeks,” he says.
While the sheer amount of work from those six weeks is impressive, it may be that self-inflicted time constraint that’s responsible for the show’s biggest drawback—repetitiveness. Although it’s hard not to be endeared by the bright colors and the coy cultural references, some of the pieces that feature larger color-blocking pale in comparison to the tighter Tetris-style paintings. Some of the former group make it feel like Green was striving to fill the gallery to the gills, overwhelm the viewer in an effort to charm—which is a little ironic, since the exhibit is Green’s take on minimalist titan Mondrian. And that scale makes the Mondrian and Gaudi references so glaring that they verge on feeling reductive.
I was only half joking when asking Green about going into architecture; he might fare very well as an installation artist. Teen Tech had featured some design elements like Garfield wallpaper, and Houseface also came furnished. People peeked inside a painted armoire, crawled into a painted cloth teepee. “I wanted it to be a more interactive space,” Green said as he sat on one of several painted crates that guests had been loafing on all night. The crates resembled dice for some larger-than-life board game.
One of the most popular parts of the show were the set pieces that Green had designed for his 2011 film The Wrong Ferrari, which included a fake game show set and the aforementioned teepee. The film, starring Macaulay Culkin and a fleet of other recognizable faces (including Devendra Banhart and Alia Shawkat), was released last year for free online, and was projected in the gallery’s back room. It’s a jarring experience, full of faux-profound non sequiturs like “video game characters make bad husbands.” Based on Green’s ketamine-fueled fear of turning 30, it’s worth a look if you’re a fan of hyper-referential self-aware absurdism. Or if you’re on a lot of animal tranquilizers. Green said the film was appropriate in the gallery setting, but ideally “I would like it as a midnight movie.” Take note, art-house programmers.
For the rest of you, jump into the ball-pit.