Kathleen Ryan
May 6–June 19, 2021

188 & 172 East 2nd Street
New York, NY, 10009

Karma is pleased to present an exhibition of new sculptures by Kathleen Ryan. This is her first exhibition with the gallery.

Assertive in their materiality, Ryan’s sculptures tackle formal concerns such as volume, weight, surface, and balance. Utilizing a diverse range of mediums—including marble, glazed ceramic, concrete, and found objects such as bowling balls or an Airstream trailer—she creates oversized models of commonplace goods, defamiliarizing basic commodities. Taking the form of vintage decorative crafts that have been blown up to an imposing scale, her Bad Fruit series employs material irony and art historical tropes to play with expectation and desire; Ryan fashions decaying fruit from glittering beads, gemstones, and found items, illustrating her fascination with “how objects bring meaning and carry a history.”

The sculptures embody contradictions: the illusory weightlessness of their heavy forms; the insinuations of both kitsch and refinement; the negotiation between allegorical, historical musings and the stoic present. Subverting expectations of value, synthetic acrylic and glass beads simulate glistening flesh, while clusters of semiprecious stones play the role of pathogens such as penicillium digitatum. The exhibition presents Ryan’s fruits alongside other large-scale models of evanescent vegetation, and ignites a sense of disorientation and mythic wonder through its materiality, scale, and evocative power. With painstaking technique, painterly sensitivity to color, and a biting sense of humor, Ryan’s Bad Fruit suggests art’s capacity to both evoke and arrest the passage of time.

In Karma’s front room, visitors encounter a heap of oversize cherries, their bulbous forms imprisoned by the rectilinear grid of a found metal basket, a surrogate for the grocery container. Verdant colonies of mold are composed of amazonite, aventurine, fluorite, turquoise, malachite, angelite, and labradorite, among other stones, and crimson bruises of carnelian, jasper, and garnet bloom across unblemished skins of acrylic and glass. Scaled up to the size of bodily proxies, the corralled, confined cherries upset the familiarity of the food market parcel. This sense of unease is heightened by the way Ryan merges artisanal and commercialized aesthetics; the tension in the carefully handcrafted cherry’s plight against the hard industrial metal is visceral in its bodily suggestion.

The horticultural motif is extended with a daisy chain made from funnels, agricultural hose, and vinyl. While the caged cherries deliver a handmade rendition of the assembly-line grocery package, the daisy chain inverts these mechanics, imposing a utilitarian logic upon the typically rustic coronet. Ryan links these found objects together via simple mechanical connections—plastic funnels of graduated sizes slide into each other to make the flowers’ centers, pinning delicately creased petals of shiny vinyl together, and stems of agricultural hose snake through sliced openings in the next one.

Upon moving to the back of the space, the viewer confronts a massive jack-o’-lantern whose glimmering, warty exterior is studded with tens of thousands of faceted acrylic beads and glistening nailheads. Propped on the floor nearby, its lid offers a hint of the view awaiting visitors who peer through its open top, triangular eyes and nose, or gaping mouth: a gloriously rotting cavity encrusted with minerals and gemstones, like a psychedelic geode. Jagged crystals of calcite, quartz, and citrine represent the pumpkin’s pulpy flesh, which is mottled with fungal growths of azurite-malachite, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and smoky quartz, and agate slices replicating lesions of black rot. In its material artifice, the sculpture, like its reference, is fashioned with a costume of deceit—a Hallows Eve icon of suspended belief and mistrust. The shiny facade of this monumental icon of Americana belies its decaying interior with a grin.

In Karma’s second space at 172 East 2nd Street, decomposing cherries and spoiled lemons resonate idiomatically. Cherries variously connote the fruits of paradise, blood, self-sacrifice, chastity, and sexual purity. Lemons have historically embodied luxury and exoticism, but also deceptive representations, whether false friends or dud cars. Rife with multivalent meanings, Ryan’s fruit recognizes the mutability of language: in effect, the slow decay of symbols over time.

A fully illustrated catalogue will be published on the occasion of the exhibition.