Alison Owen

austerity cookbook review

“The Austerity Cookbook”

09.28.09
AUTHOR: IAN BOURLAND

09.05.09-10.25.09 The Soap Factory

Given recent emphasis on immersive and site-specific installation, it is easy to write off many new works as gimmicky. Nonetheless, “The Austerity Cookbook,” at Minneapolis’s Soap Factory, uses these conceits to stirring effect. The space, a sort of steampunk fun house, is in many ways the star of the show.

The Soap Factory’s massive volumes retain the patina of age and provide airy tableaux for incipient practices. The exhibition began with an invitation to emerging artists to arrive with a receptiveness to the raw and unheated environment. As a result, the finished pieces do not feel grafted onto the galleries but instead balance in organic unity with the building.

The show is at its weakest, then, when it recedes into mere display, which includes projections of Eileen Maxson’s Cinderella +++, 2002, and Wendy DesChene’s self-referential distortion paintings. Hidden behind a curtain, however, is Scott Rogers’s Wireframe Beta, 2009, an array of light boxes that click off when the viewer enters the room. In the dark, the armature of the building appears delimited in photoluminescent tape that traces the cattywompus arc of the ceiling and a meandering crack on the back wall of the cavernous room.

This fusion of ragged imperfection and aesthetic precision appears again in the main gallery, where dust from the space has been affixed to adhesive plastic by Alison Owen to depict lush ornaments, arabesques, and trapdoors. Additionally, the New York–based artist Adam Parker Smith has positioned cloudlike plumes of umbrellas throughout the building. Yet the impact of the space is most pronounced in Lauren Herzak-Bauman’s Memory Eternal, 2009, four circles of shattered porcelain lit with weathered industrial lamps. On a smaller scale, the project lacks conceptual interest, but writ large, the debris assumes an elegiac beauty.