If, while wandering the galleries of a museum, you’ve ever found yourself more drawn to the elaborate frame surrounding a Renaissance masterwork than to the painting itself, don’t be so quick to label yourself aesthetically unsophisticated. Carol Bove, a Brooklyn artist whose installations have lately been attracting attention, has had the same experience. Looking at a grouping of Brancusi sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art recently, she concluded that “the sculptures, even though they’re meant to be the primary focal point, just seemed like excuses for the bases. It felt like a case of the setting really being the event.”
That somewhat heretical thought pattern was one of the inspirations behind “setting” for A. Pomodoro, a tableau on view at Bove’s solo show this fall at New York’s Maccarone gallery. The work is centered on a circa-1963 eight-inch sphere by sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, which Bove borrowed from collectors, placed on a platform and surrounded with concrete blocks, Giacometti-esque bronze cages and bits of driftwood and steel. The piece is one of a series of what Bove calls “forced collaborations” with other artists. (Her Maccarone installation also features a Bruce Connor assemblage and trippy paintings by virtually unknown artist Wilfred Lang, which were left to her by her grandmother.) The goal, she says, is to create environments that optimize the viewing of other artists’ work. “It can be seen as generous, creating this setting for someone, but also as aggressive, like you’re co-opting someone’s vision,” says Bove. “Mostly I’m interested in making room for other people in my work.”
It’s an idea that has fascinated her since 1998, when she was finishing up her studio art degree at New York University. In the decade since, she’s also “made room” for Playboy photographers of the late Sixties, creating what she calls “a subjective archive” of the magazine by drawing women from vintage issues and paperback writers of the same time period, and strategically grouping mass-market books on shelves (Montgomery Hyde’s Geschichte der Pornographie next to Wilhelm Stekel’s Auto-Erotism, for instance) in an attempt to paint a picture of that decade’s popular psyche.
What all the aforementioned influences—from the Playboys to the Pomodoro—share is an Age of Aquarius provenance. It’s only fitting: Bove, 36, was raised in Berkeley, California, where, she says, “the ideas of the Sixties were really being put into practice rearing the next generation.”
“Her work is not nostalgic,” says Shamim M. Momin, a major admirer of Bove’s art who (happily for Bove, one has to imagine) is cocurating the 2008 Whitney Biennial. “It’s really a way of rethinking [that era’s] failed structures and strategies and examining how they’ve shaped our present.”
Recently, however, Bove found herself a little tired of all this looking back, and so for her fall show she decided to create a piece rooted, quite rigorously, in the here and now. She covered a portion of the ceiling at Maccarone in rigid metal mesh, from which she descended a grouping of thin copper rods. With each rod corresponding to a single star, the piece is an exact depiction of the night sky over the gallery, were the stars visible over Manhattan, on October 21, 2007—a date near the end of the show’s run. Art doesn’t get much more contemporary.