It's not clear to me why the 40-year-old artist doesn't have a long, blue-chip exhibition history, particularly when his virtuoso handling of discarded and mass-produced materials can be gleaned immediately when entering Hogar Collection. Among the more prominent sculptures, a slotless, hot-glued piggy bank [above] made from broken mason jars sits at the back of the gallery while a large wall-mounted, mixed dirt and glue tondo fills the entire far wall. Naturally, there's less representational rendering in the latter work, but it does include a strangely small pair of skeletons embracing in the gallery's center, surrounded by carefully laid garbage found on the streets of Bushwick. Hilariously, the detritus includes a lone chicken bone, which is about the same size as any of the larger parts in the skeleton.
Like the self-titled pig, mysteriously filled with coins and the tiny skeletoned tondo No One Sleeps Under So Many Lids, themes of magic-gone-awry permeate the show, as does Choi's boyish humor. Probably the best example of this comes in the form of a small video titled Slap the mustache off my face, which documents a blond-bearded hipster doing just that. After the artist has been hit, Choi raises his hand to feel a newly clean-shaven upper lip; the camera then zooms in on the facial hair now on the wall behind them. I like to imagine there's some bizarro samurai magic that's removed Choi's mustache, shrunk the skeletons, and created the human-sized wood carving of a Buddah impaled with multicolored pins at the front of the gallery. Either that, or the sitting mediator is a voodoo acupuncture project gone horribly wrong.
For the most part, this kind of unexpected humor makes the exhibition a joy to walk through, though occasionally the artist's charm falls a little flat. Less successful is Self Portrait, a wall-mounted pile of clothes resting on a palette of red hot glue and topped with a pair of shoes jokingly suggests that a pool of blood and shriveled clothing is all that remains of the artist after some sort of bizarre headstand accident. Past being slightly juvenile, the work owes too much to Tom Friedman's gruesome construction paper self portrait, which depicts his mutilated body lying splattered across the floor.
Notably, Choi is most frequently identified with Johnston Foster, a slightly younger artist who began showing similarly transformed discarded material art around 2001 at Rare. It's hard to know why Foster's career took off while Choi's work did not, but my hope is that this new show draws a few more critics and curators out than usual. The work deserves it.
Dave Choi at Hogar Collection