In “Amerika,” a group exhibition at David Castillo Gallery, artists from around the world, working in many mediums, are connected by a condition as universal as the contributors are diverse: otherness. Borrowing its title from Kafka’s posthumously released novel, the show takes up the writer’s fraught consideration of a country he never set foot in, and amplifies it to a universal pitch. By combining ubiquitous symbols, forms, and materials, the artists explore a space between and beyond national borders, defined styles, and utopia and dystopia—an open-format heterotopia where wide-ranging impressions exist together.
David Wojnarowicz’s We are Born into a Preinvented Existence (1990), the first work encountered in the gallery, sets in motion the pursuit of a new, heterogeneous reality. Wojnarowicz combines photographs of American symbols, a painting of exotic plants, and pointed text that proposes a post-conservative culture of acceptance and freedom. Rafael Ferrer’s neon Artforhum (Red, White and Blue) (1971) fuses and edits national and art world icons to poke at established political and intellectual systems. Christian Marclay tears photos of people at a Fourth of July parade (usually an exuberantly patriotic affair), questioning the country’s established tradition.
Shinique Smith and Sanford Biggers combine painting with fragments of textile and pattern to create hybrid two-dimensional works that reference history and present, folk and contemporary art, and liminal, multinational themes like trade and tradition.
Nick Cave, Eric Nathaniel Mack, and Huma Bhabha allude to the human body in sculptures that anthropomorphize and personalize the theme of the show. Cave’s Soundsuit (2013) doubles as otherworldly armor, while Mack’s Untitled (2014) feels like a post-apocalyptic being who has been through the thick of it. Bhabha’s My Grave (2013) evolves the figure further, all the way to the afterlife.
As postscript, Bjarne Melgaard’s paintings suggest the possibility of total reinvention. The abstractions, resembling psychedelic primordial goo, bear the revelatory and regenerative titles The day Theresa discovered Jeremy betrayed her (2013) and Theresa evaporating into a life not yet started (2013).