Canada is pleased to present US, Michael Mahalchick’s seventh solo show with the gallery. The centerpiece of US is an installation of nearly four hundred latex masks that fill the gallery’s largest wall. The masks are creepy, pitiable, and mute. Staring out at the audience they seem to ask us to supply narratives for this constellation of lost souls. When Mahalchick began making the masks in 2018, they were an attempt to process and portray Trump-loving “deplorables.” The 100-proof rhetoric of the last administration allowed some people to drop their “masks,” giving them free rein to openly express their rage and disenfranchisement. As Mahalchick worked on his feral portraits, he came to see that everyone plays a role in our current social climate. It stopped being a matter of them or those but, instead, an emphatic US. Everyone is complicit in Mahalchick’s view; everyone owns some blame, value, and darkness.
In addition to the masks, Mahalchick has made large wall works consisting of latex casts of plastic packaging trays. The casts are attached together to create cellular arrangements that hint at urban topographical maps or hermetic religious symbols. Looking closer, it becomes clear that the source of the shapes is repurposed packaging, and suddenly the work becomes a twisted homage to the ubiquitous plastic clamshells that are at the center of banal consumer culture. This sly redirection thrusts the viewer away from the sublime and into the icky maw of Amazon deliveries and other forms of obsessive consumption. The skin-like latex suggests that our basest desires and our bodies have become the same thing. Through these works, we can trace a direct route from the seduction of the computer screen to impulsively purchased crap and then on to its inevitable final resting place in a landfill.
US is an assessment of contemporary life and the frailties of human identity. The works are full of inventive variations on irreverent themes. Mahalchick often applies as many as twenty layers of latex to each piece, straight or mixed with acrylic paint, to produce his faded icons. The insistent materiality imbues the work with the careworn feeling of a well-used tool or talisman. The repetition of forms, with their attendant flaws, suggests the genetic reproduction of viruses. The strange logic of making replicas of something designed to be discarded or transform appearance is not lost on Mahalchick. The masks take on something more bracing than simulacrum; they become activated in their own perverse ways. And as with any multi-year project, unexpected turns in world events have changed the reading of the works. Can anyone hear the word mask and not think of the past year and half of life in a pandemic? Mahalchick grants gifts to a shaken collective. US gives space for reflection, recognition and grief.
Michael Mahalchick was bred in Pottsville, PA and is now the toast of New York City. He earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA and completed his BFA in sculpture at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Mahalchick has exhibited and performed extensively throughout the USA and Europe. Recent exhibitions include Skin Game at Canada, New York; Last Arrangements at Louis B. James, New York; Here Today, Gone Tomorrow at the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT. In 2010, Mahalchick received a New York Dance and Performance Bessie Award for PURO DESEO, a collaboration with luciana achugar. BODYWORK, a book covering twenty years of the artist’s practice, will be published in conjunction with this exhibition.