Susan Cianciolo’s current solo show at Bridget Donahue Gallery is unfinished. That isn’t just a reference to the raw edges on the cardboard shipping boxes that sit in rows on the floor, or the threadbare quilts on which the boxes rest. The artist herself has been sneaking into the second-floor gallery to tinker with her cardboard “kits,” well after the show opened weeks ago. “That’s a secret,” she adds, slyly.
Entitled “if God COMes to visit You, HOW will you know? (the great tetrahedral kite),” the exhibition is a diary of sorts, not only of Cianciolo’s career as an artist, but also her work as a fashion designer and her role as a mother, daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter. “I grew up with my parents and my grandparents and my great-grandmother all in the same house,” she says. “Very old-fashioned Italian.”
Nestled in the cardboard kits, which can be explored by request with the help of Donahue, are vintage bloomers worn by the artist, step-by-step instructions on how to make a denim skirt, handmade dolls, Polaroids, sketches from previous shows, collections, and performances, and a lone coin that Cianciolo herself was surprised to discover. “My daughter might have snuck that in there,” she says.
Lilac Sky Cianciolo, the artist’s seven-year-old daughter, collaborated on many aspects of the project, most notably a cardboard “Money Machine,” with a drawn-on keypad to make withdrawals. “She understands economics,” Cianciolo says. “I came home one day and she says, ‘I did a performance in the park, and I had a bucket out and people gave money.’”
Her daughter’s desire to perform may be genetic. A few years ago, Cianciolo took on the role of The Doctor of Divinity in a German production of Hamlet, for which she was also the costume designer. The reconceived version was an homage to the late Jack Smith, the pioneering underground filmmaker whose use of decadent costumes and steadfast divergence from the norm had a substantial impact on Cianciolo. “We felt Jack Smith’s spirit was really there,” she says. Tomorrow night, June 30, Cianciolo and Mark von Schlegell, the play’s director, will celebrate the launch of a book commemorating that performance with a discussion of Smith’s legacy and screening of his films. The event marks a collaboration across two generations of gallerists—Donahue and Barbara Gladstone, who represents Smith’s estate—as well as artists.
The launch of Portikus Catalog Nr. 179, “Jack Smith: Hamlet,” will take place June 30 at New York’s Bridget Donahue gallery, 99 Bowery, 2nd floor.