Darren Bader at Harkawik

Artist: Darren Bader

Exhibition title: The American Express Holiday Show

Venue: Harkawik, New York, US

Date: November 20, 2021 – January 2, 2022

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Harkawik, New York

Darren Bader plunders, extracts, destroys, calibrates, and reconciles. He is an object maestro, rousing potential in a series of diffuse objet trouvés. Unification comes by way of proximity; no glue, physical or otherwise, affirms the objects’ relativity, merely the logical orientation of things-in-space.

Bader is dealing with ideas, figuring out each object’s beingness, and finding values in combinations. What is encoded in a gizmo? Each acquired object presents a certain puissance. It is then up to the artist, viewer, and collector to decipher its relationality—a holy trinity of sorts. Dogma is bucked, though Bader certainly suggests the possibility of real beauty in these assemblages. His reflexive sensibility for matter and language begets the production of what might be called “sincere combustions.” He presents a series of arrivals, albeit unstable ones. As soon as you believe you’ve come to terms with something, the precarity of intention thwarts any confidence in understanding. The viewer is moved to oscillate between “idk” and “aha!” and then back again: a perpetual disambiguation. The volatility of intention versus perception is thus put at stake. There is no resolution, instead a cultivation of raw ideas. Bader is extracting latent vitality from his materials in order to investigate authorship, art and nonart, beauty, Love, the market, and legitimacy.

A cinephilic predilection for images clearly undergirds “The American Express Holiday Show.” Show biz refuse proliferates in the space. An ecstatic Hugh Jackman is doubled, his likeness effaced by a confluence of signatures. Dixie Carter is a crown jewel above Elmgreen & Dragset’s Incidental Self (No. 21). Tyler Durden’s Amex card rests in the pocket of an elephant sapien. All of the objects comprising the exhibition were culled from a ravenous period of hunter-gathering online. He mined the internet then made these items available for his own use and misuse.

A curious slippage between object and thing is foregrounded here. Inert objects allegedly transform to things, but can they be resuscitated? Thingness is contestable. Use value is rendered incogent. Absurdity and banality arm wrestle without a clear winner. Amalgams of images, deliberations, object-things emerge as though they were always correlative. “Now what?” happens by way of Bader’s non-rhetorical approach; the viewer is left to her own devices, consigned to punctums. Each piece sits in space in the way of a Blinky Palermo: waiting patiently for mental activation.

To experience the work is to witness Darren Bader hanging out in his own world. He surreptitiously follows ideas without disrupting their courses. The works on display grant us access to his compositional acumen, but we are deprived of details. Bader is pathologically bound to satisfied combinations and the possibility of transcendence. What is compelling here is not a proposal that these assemblages are meaningful, but that there is a chance they could be.

—Reilly Davidson