Paige K.B.’s “Of Course, You Realize, This Means War”

Travis Diehl

June 14, 2023
Blade Study, New York
May 4–June 4, 2023

At the opening, the red and white helium balloons were in everyone’s face. Now, at the show’s close, they’re at your feet, like a deflated Great Pacific Garbage Patch, pressing visitors closer to Paige K.B.’s intricate collages on wood panels, pastiches of art-historical material, and political sound-bites; closer to the web of found objects and deadpan references supplementing the paintings, to the sour red walls they hang on. The balloons make it hard to take in the show from a safe, not to say critical, distance. No measured overview allowed, only deep diving, unpacking, conspiring. The balloons suggest a constellation so dense and rubbery it’s a blob, the trampled ribbons like the red yarn in the disgraced detective’s storage unit—their significance all wadded up and too close to see.

Maybe that’s too much weight to attach to party decorations that never got cleaned up. But why weren’t they cleaned up? Why are they on the checklist, inaccurately, as 99 Red Balloons of Diplomacy (all works 2023 unless otherwise stated): “Thirty-one red balloons,” when some are white? A checklist on a PDF dated May 17—two weeks after the opening? But the balloons fit the vibe. They insinuate themselves into a scenography in which even trash seems resonant. There are partially painted two-by-fours arranged like fallen dominos (a Cold War reference?) along one wall and titled Three Out of Four Bars Agree, a row of yerba mate and kombucha bottles carefully arranged along another (“The historical human is passionate. He or she desires recognition, desires the desire of the other.”). Two crinkled paper ovals, painted gray and stuck to the wall, turn the whole gallery into an unblinking emoji. The latex balloons slumped but the lone mylar globe stayed strong, reflecting the room like a convex security mirror or an Eye of Sauron.

Too far again? The show has an inflated sense of humor—from its belletristic, belligerent title “Of Course, You Realize, This Means War” (widely attributed to Bugs Bunny) to the Sugar Daddy candy offered at the desk (how’s a young artist supposed to make ends meet?). K.B. prompts me to laugh at myself for placing too much faith in the dire project of analysis or critique. Indeed, I’m guilty of pinning my red yarn to various sociocultural monuments—January 6, September 11, 30 Under 30—as if that’s a personality, as if there’s a there there. I see that now.

In the pantheon guiding K.B.’s writing as well as previous artwork, a handful of conceptual artists serve to validate a life built around spiraling—an artist’s, an intellectual’s, a theorist’s life. The translucent eagles painted on the front window, casting their clawed shadows on the red sky of the painted walls, are the appropriated logo of First Republic Bank. K.B. has been using the image for years—is it a coincidence that the bank collapsed earlier this spring, entering receivership the week before her opening?

For the artist, the eagle references Marcel Broodthaers and his semi-satirical archival institution Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section XIXème Siècle (1968–69). There are numerous nods to Jack Goldstein, another K.B. saint, such as NO STEP, but cornered, so I take ownership of it—I turn tail and leave a memorable line in the wake (the title references “Don’t Tread on Me” memes). It’s an elegant sketch of a German Shepherd’s butt, which Goldstein heads will recognize as being the same breed as his dog Jack—yes, he gave his dog his own name, and that’s exactly the sort of collapsible, off-hand profundity that litters K.B.’s show.

My eye darts around—from a four-by-six snapshot of a mountain (Country Road, Take Me Home…, 2010), to the graphite graffiti of a brick wall drawn onto the wall of the gallery (...Found in The Room That Does Not Care—meanwhile my soul, or value, remains a moving target), to the golden Seiko executive digital timepiece on a shelf by the door (Face Value), set to a different year and longitude. So many visuals, popping against the aggressively cheerful red—but the show is ultimately text-based. I tend to “name” each object—mountain, clock, dog butt—and try to wire them into something coherent. This grasping feeling is the show’s main affect. Nowhere is logically safe, nothing quite makes sense.

Not even the paintings, the tops delicately lined with fragments of eggshells, snake skin, lace. All but one of the mixed-media works are titled Footnote. Presumably they embellish the larger 2022 painting, youre finally awake! its morning. (Morning in America? A morning meme?) And this painting depicts … another painting, perhaps; one decorating the cover of a book—a slanted image of an anime face, a Sugar Daddy sucker, a dark impasto sea—all canted against a curling, fragmented script. Given the show’s tendencies, this text is probably a long quote, possibly from the artist’s diary. A staticky, dense collage of boutique paper strips runs down the right edge of the wood panel and breaks the illusion. You’re finally awake. Now you can chase the truth, cast around the walls painted Tangerine Tango, Pantone’s color of the year in 2012—another year the world was supposed to end but didn’t.

Collage, Media Critique

Travis Diehl lives in New York. He is a recipient of the Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and the Rabkin Prize in Visual Arts Journalism.

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Blade Study
June 14, 2023

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