Natilee Harren on Iva Kinnaird

Elizabeth Warren’s Ear (all works cited, 2022), part of Iva Kinnaird’s solo debut at the house gallery associated with F magazine, initiated viewers into the Houston-based artist’s quirky mode of archaeological inspection. Earlobe-shaped stones scattered atop a plinth served as paperweights for a realistic painting on paper depicting the meaty, severed earlobe—punctured by a dull-gold stud—of the eponymous US senator and former Houstonian. You had to cast your eyes downward to puzzle over the work’s pathetic fragments, whose gathering seemed motivated by an impulse to treat the detritus of middlebrow contemporary America like the decontextualized remnants of a long-lost civilization, obsessed over by some future being. The piece also recalled the Morellian method, made famous by microhistorian Carlo Ginzburg, of zeroing in on the most minor of aesthetic clues. “One should rather examine the most negligible details,” Ginzburg once explained. “The lobes of the ears, the fingernails, the shape of the fingers and toes.” This, paradoxically, is where authenticity can be located.

Kinnaird’s prior work includes a clever series of hyperrealistic paintings of elongated couches. At F, she extended her project of excavating and memorializing banal cultural clues into the modalities of sculpture. The works involved experiments in casting, carving, finding, and assembling, their cumulative effect flickering between mystery, bathos, and hilarity. Taking in the show, I imagined the ghosts of Claes Oldenburg and Mike Kelley chuckling approvingly over my shoulder. Three works featured dead cockroaches hung at eye level, their bellies exposed and legs spread wide, as if in greeting. The pair of insects from That’s All Folks! (1953) and There’s More Folks! (Evil Porky), each popping out from a cardboard corona, were painted in minute detail to resemble Porky Pig delivering his famous Looney Tunes outro. The latter appears in the inverted, high-key colors of the “evil so-and-so be like” meme. Kinnaird’s devotion to her buggy subjects also materializes in a selection of oversize roach totems carved from poplar with elegantly twining antennae, evoking objects of folksy Americana. Not until this exhibition had I considered how long I’d lived in a cockroach town—Houston—without seeing any good cockroach art. I doubt I will encounter any as charmingly provocative as Kinnaird’s; to any who dare compete, she’s thrown down the gauntlet.

Roaches will outlast us, but pills will aid us in our final days. And the one thing pills and these enduring pests seem to have in common is that they can frequently be found secreted beneath couches, similar to the ones Kinnaird has painted. At any rate, the artist conjures the most startling beauty from another commonplace item: ibuprofen gel caplets, which comprise a series of delicate constructions that troll Brancusi in delightful ways. In Endless Ache, the tablets are threaded together from floor to ceiling, approximating a precariously extended column, while The Kiss joins two of them in an embrace sealed with spit and a rubber band. IB Objects, among the most compelling works on view, is a shelf-bound array of geometric sculptural experiments that cast a holy aquamarine glow.

Two architectural fragments completed Kinnaird’s collection of invented relics. For Filling, the artist applied her painterly skill in simulating a bespoke piece of linoleum—its precise, 1970s-style pattern could have seamlessly patched a specific hole in the home gallery’s kitchen flooring. Finally, the titular subject matter of the carved marble relief HOT LESBIAN PUSSY TO PUSSY (2GIRLSHOME) 4:11, at first glance, was hard to read due to the complexity of the material’s veining and the subtlety of the work’s rendering. But eventually we see it all, and in engrossing detail: Labia smoosh and curl around themselves like the petals of a flower. Not only a stony feminist rejoinder to Courbet’s L’origine du monde, 1866, Kinnaird’s cunt-end view of the world also reaches more broadly toward the allegorical. The artist’s deceptively modest works search with a monumental spirit for what is holding together our ramshackle present and speculate on what might be left after everything falls apart.

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