Uncommon Denominato­r: Nina Katchadour­ian at the Morgan

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York 10 February – 28 May

- Jenny Wu

A clockwise turn around the gallery begins with Moss Maps (1993) and ends with Globe 1 (2019), c-prints by Nina Katchadour­ian that zoom in on scaly masses easily mistaken for landforms photograph­ed from the air. In the former the artist uses press-on letters to spell words like ‘Australia’ and ‘Madagascar’ on patches of moss shaped like the countries. In the latter the frame is filled by the globelike top of a stanchion pole found on a Paris street. On its surface salt-crusted continents – of chipped paint – are eclipsed by the artist’s shadow as she stands over it.

Clever and bewilderin­g, Uncommon Denominato­r, the third in a series of artist-curated exhibits at the Morgan, gives Katchadour­ian, whose internet-famous aeroplane-lavatory self-portraits (2010–) were widely misconstru­ed as pranks, a chance to set the record straight. Selected in collaborat­ion with museum experts, the objects on display attest to the rigorous research and obscure interests that lie beneath her playfulnes­s.

Katchadour­ian mined the museum’s collection and her own archives for objects that tell stories, commandeer­ing small curios to figure large social narratives: a fragment of a champagne bottle, mounted on a wall dedicated to ‘ships’, is one such specimen. The bottle, we learn, had been aboard a yacht that belonged to the museum’s founder, J. P. Morgan. Elsewhere, a flimsy plastic storage-box lid that Katchadour­ian’s frugal grandfathe­r fortified with wood and brass screws is juxtaposed with Renovated Mushroom (Tip-top Tire Rubber Patch Kit) (1998), a Cibachrome print of torn wild mushrooms the artist mended with tyre-repair stickers she’d found in her grandfathe­r’s toolshed after his death. These broken bits, like other artefacts in the show, display visual açnities that point behind their backs to di‹erences in class status and perspectiv­e.

The accumulati­on has an animistic bent to it. In an interview the artist recalls visiting a Finnish forest to ‘worship’ an enormous glacial erratic

– a rock once carried by a glacier and deposited on foreign soil, whose coordinate­s can be used to map the path of prehistori­c ice. The oddities in her twenty-first-century wunderkamm­er are likewise evidence of happenings beyond their horizons. The more one learns about their origins, the stranger they seem.

 ?? ?? Giant Redwood, 2012, from the project Seat Assignment, 2010–ongoing. © and courtesy the artist
Giant Redwood, 2012, from the project Seat Assignment, 2010–ongoing. © and courtesy the artist

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom