About the Exhibition
Semiprecious features works by Carolyn Castaño, Jennifer Cohen, Luis Gispert, Kirsten Hassenfeld, and Marc Swanson, each of whom uses visually dazzling materials to explore themes of artifice, seduction, desire, exoticism, and fantasy. With a critical eye toward the precious object, these artists explore the elements of melancholy, romance, and sensuality that lie beneath the sparkling surface.
Carolyn Castaño, Nightbird (A Memory of Things Lost and Found Again)
For the lobby of One MetroTech Center, Carolyn Castaño (b.1971, Los Angeles, CA) created Nightbird (A Memory of Things Lost and Found Again), her first sculptural work. Bringing the outside indoors, Nightbird is a bejeweled peacock, painted in rich, metallic shades of blue, silver, and black. The peacock’s closed tail, which drapes over the edge of the pedestal, is covered in gems, crystal brooches, and cameos found at flea markets and elsewhere. This exotic bird has made frequent appearances throughout the course of art history–most famously in the work of Art Nouveau illustrator Aubrey Beardsley–often as a symbol of beauty, vanity, and femininity, despite the fact that it is the male who has colorful plumage.
Jennifer Cohen, Diamond
Jennifer Cohen’s six-foot-long bronze cobra reflects the artist’s experimentation with organic processes. The cobra’s highly polished head rises up from the body, its shiny surface in stark contrast to the untreated patina of the natural-bronze body. For Cohen (b.1974, New York City, NY), the work refers to the desired transformative properties of jewels and the way that precious objects change over time. Even the snake’s body is positioned in the shape of a diamond, with the end of its tail near its mouth. Decades of advertising have made familiar the expression “a diamond is forever.” In a similar vein, the cyclical gesture of a snake eating itself is a mythological symbol of eternity and regeneration.
Luis Gispert, Laid Back in the Cut
Luis Gispert’s work for MetroTech Center is a sculpture of three boom boxes that doubles as a bench. Made in bronze and buffed to a gleaming sheen, Laid Back in the Cut is a quasi-functional monument to nearby Fulton Street Mall, downtown Brooklyn’s busy shopping district. An urban center for decades, Fulton Street Mall is mentioned in the lyrics of several hip-hop songs. The boom box, or ghetto blaster, played an integral part in the history of hip hop and rap, transforming the musical forms into mainstream genres with mass appeal. The portable sound system was, as Gispert (b.1972, Jersey City, NJ) puts it, “a contemporary campfire for urbanites to gather around and express themselves through their versions of storytelling (rap) and dancing (breaking).”
Kirsten Hassenfeld, Obelisk
Rising out of the central lawn of MetroTech Commons, Kirsten Hassenfeld’s Obelisk playfully addresses issues of luxury, ownership, sexuality, and public displays of wealth. The obelisk is a familiar form, symbolizing masculine power and conquest throughout history. In this case, Hassenfeld (b.1971, Albany, NY) gives the obelisk a makeover, incorporating traditionally feminine elements of filigree and ornamentation. Replacing the heavy stone typically used in such monumental objects with translucent milk-glass acrylic Plexiglas, Hassenfeld creates an object that is both a monument and a bauble, blurring the boundary between public and domestic treasures. The obelisk is embellished with laser cutwork in the style of chains, cameos, and other jewel-inspired decorations. Cutaway arches on each of the four sides reveal a single Plexiglas rhinestone, tucked away underneath the sculpture.
Marc Swanson, Fits and Starts
Marc Swanson’s Fits and Starts is a sculpture of a life-size deer, entirely encrusted in rhinestone crystals. The deer is portrayed mid-leap, its hind legs in the air and its head turned, as if glancing back at a person or another animal in pursuit. Swanson (b.1969, New Britain, CT), who views the sculpture in terms of fantasy and desire, notes that the deer is an alluring and elusive creature that is simultaneously darting away and frozen in time. The graceful sculpture suggests an unattainable object of adoration, trying to flee those who wish to approach. Swanson has made several related deer-head sculptures, which he calls his “surrogates,” encrusting the conventional hunter’s trophy with dazzling rhinestones and hanging it on the wall. Swanson has developed an artistic language that seeks to merge his New Hampshire upbringing (his father was an Eagle Scout and marine) with his present day identity.