Mini-Golf and Popcorn Puppies: Carlo Sampietro’s Debut Solo Show in NYC
“The Street is in the House,” one of Carlo Sampietro’s first major bodies of work, could be best read as the summation of two historically fruitful artistic motivations: first, a European expat’s interest in New York City’s urban landscape, and second, a professional’s obsession with the unusual power of design. Sampietro’s move from Italy to the United States and his switch from advertising to contemporary art—both relatively recent developments—have inspired a collection of works that reimagines often overlooked objects of civic design as more polished, enjoyable objects.
Sampietro has said his aim is to explore “the social and cultural responsibilities we face and create as urban citizens.” For his solo show at Galleria Ca’ d’Oro, his first in the United States, the objects he chooses to repurpose are tangible symbols of social control. In New York, some of these objects are of such ubiquity that they might be considered cliché: newspaper boxes, police barricades, Taxi signs, construction barriers, etc.
In Sampietro’s hands, however, they become furniture and objects of functional design ranging from serious to whimsical. Orange barriers are scooped out to become inviting chairs; a Taxi lamp becomes a piece of high-end lighting. In Police Barricade Blue (2009), the titular item transforms into the base for a long glass table surrounded by barstools.
Other works prove to be more overt lessons in the artist’s fascination with design as social thermometer. For instance, Sexy Sexy (2009) partitions a newspaper box and populates it with erotic ephemera—dildos, male and female condoms—pointing to the hyper-targeted and gendered nature of media.
Also on display are some of Sampietro’s recent standalone works, including 2011’s Pop Dogs, a popcorn machine rigged as if to endlessly spill canines. The peculiar piece was inspired by the artist’s time in Brazil, where feral dog populations have become a topic of major concern. In Street Scraper (2015), the recognizable items are par for the course: a fire hydrant, a parking sign, police barricades, a Village Voice newspaper box, etc. But Sampietro once again twists our understanding of city life. These items are all just obstacles on a playable hole of mini-golf.
“Carlo Sampietro: The Street is in the House” is on view at Galleria Ca’ D’Oro, New York, Mar. 1–31, 2016.