Casa de Costa‘s new location on the Upper East Side takes over the two floors of a 19th century carriage house secreted behind an apartment building. For their first exhibition in the small space, David Armstrong, best known for his intimate photography portraiture, has created a site-specific installation of assemblages and photographs that mix found curiosities into dark works with an edge of humor and ominous atmosphere.
Called The Dark Parade, the exhibition opened earlier this month, an extension of a version that was shown at CONTEXT Art Miami last December. On entering through the bland apartment building hallway you emerge out into a small courtyard lined with plants, the little house before you. Once inside it’s like plummeting through a portal to another world away from the less-than-glamorous East River edge of 61 Street. Billie Holiday music was playing through the rooms installed with disconcerting sculptural works like old dolls crowded inside a glass-topped child’s coffin, and a medallion of hair framed in front of the face of a curly-haired figure. The art has a mix of the memento mori via a hard-on-its-luck antiques store. There are also photographs by Armstrong with blurry visions of vaguely identifiable objects and classic paintings, while flames flicker in the Casa de Costa fireplace and the curtains are drawn in the bedroom where furs are strewn around a mattress, meant to resemble Armstrong’s own bed at his home. Another piece with more dolls replicates Armstrong’s favorite club in Berlin.
The whole exhibition is definitely a carefully crafted immersive experience, as the artist spent hours painstakingly positioning everything — there’s even an eerie mash-up of a doll with its head caught in a glass lamp while one leg is consumed by a feather duster in the bathroom. And with the assemblages including materials like bell jars, exotic cat fur wound in a container topped with a bell, ribbons, dried flowers, gold chains, sailor hats, and nipple clamps, there’s something of an illicit curiosity cabinet feel to it, with detritus both precious and pop culture culled from material cast offs. A lot of it is rather unsettling — like a spinal column writhed in front of a blank-faced doll caged in glass — yet there’s also some gleeful fun in colliding these things into a remixed vision, as if seen through a glass darkly, of their purpose.
David Armstrong: The Dark Parade is at Casa de Costa (405 East 61st Street, 1D, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through May 22.