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Once actually home to a 99-cent store, 99¢ Plus Gallery currently resembles a business in the lighting district on the Bowery — one that would take the cake for the most eccentric wares along that electrified stretch. Its single-room space is hosting The Lamp Show, a group exhibition that presents exactly what you’d think it would: over 30 objects, almost all emitting glows, and united only by their designation as lighting devices.
Curated by gallery cofounder Zoe Alexander Fisher, the show offers no grand, thought-provoking statement nor any abstract musings — this is but an occasion to display one’s sculptural (and electrical) chops. Here are works by a brew of artists and industrial designers responding to the challenge of designing functional objects in a variety of guises — from literal, lampshade-topped creations that would be at home in a postmodern interior, to carefully shaped ceramic pieces whose makers clearly savored the process of craft. Some lamps are on the floor; others, perched on shelves. There are hanging fixtures, too, and objects that don’t actually even have bulbs.
The overall result is kitschy but playful, and the exhibition forms an immersive installation. Helping to create this sense of cohesion are the painted floor and walls, stained a luminous banana yellow that gives we who enter the feeling of stepping into a warm, colored bulb. Each work also receives its juice from wires adorned with eye-popping hues or patterns, all deliberately in plain sight so they crawl across surfaces and spring across the space, tracing out a visually busy circuit.
The Lamp Show is all about light and sight, but the most conspicuous work also provides a sound component. B. Thom Stevenson‘s industrial piece “Kinetic Lamp 1” (2015), the love-child of a lamp and an oscillating fan, waves around its base while its motor purrs — an absurd lamp to own, as a moving light source would likely be annoying. Most of the other works on view are better suited for home use. Hanging from the ceiling, Doug Johnston‘s modular “Untitled (Prototype)” (2010), made of foam core rectangles, could appear in a lifestyle magazine championing simple design; vase-like sculptures such as Chris Lux‘s tantalizingly sticky-looking “Sweet Potato (yellow)” (2015) and SNEAKYKARMA’s reptilian, paracord-covered porcelain “WIN/WIN Lamp” are the kind of unique furnishings people use as ice-breakers at awkward house soirées.
What makes The Lamp Show especially compelling is the vast variety of material used. There are found objects, such as Annie Bielski’s garment-wrapped bulb lying on a lump on the ground. A closer look reveals that it is a painted pair of cotton underwear, dropped carefree in the middle of the room as if to establish a claim over a domestic space. Will Rose highlights the gorgeous seafoam-green color of a PS 46 PVC Sewer Pipe in his “Silver Morning, Deep Blue Day, Weightless” (2016), the interior of which he transformed into an illuminated beach scene. Misha Kahn covered the strings of a mop head with resin, forgoing any lighting parts but painting it a sunshine yellow so it gleams on its own. A sensual, wax-covered candelabra by Matthew Ronay transports us to the past — it’s the show’s only non-electric lamp.
Other objects are cobbled together from wood, cardboard, thread, stoneware, paper, hardware, shells, cement, fabrics, terra cotta, and hair extensions — offering an array of surfaces off of which light may bounce. The bricolage makes for a refreshing arrangement, distinct from the austere and minimalist light works that too often illuminate typically white-walled galleries.