New York, 535 West 22nd Street
Portia Munson is widely known for her grandiose sculptural installations that bring together various discarded, and somewhat nostalgic commercial objects. Toys, beauty products, plastic home goods, and other causal objects come together through the artist’s systematic arrangements in specific color spectrums. Munson’s impressive installation Pink Project: Table, consisting of neatly orchestrated pink objects she has collected since childhood, was one of the most favored works during the previous Frieze London.
In the heart of Munson PPOW Gallery exhibition The Garden is the namesake installation, a large scale “feminine” bedroom packed with toys, floral quilts, furniture, and dresses that all relate to a typical garden in different ways. Immersive, absorbing, and mystical on one hand, the installation grabs the viewer into a visual potpourri that triggers questions about feminine identity, consumerism, and mental and physical accumulation. Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan interviewed Munson about her exhibition that opens today.
— How has The Garden evolved since you first created it? How do you feel installing the piece twenty years later considering the current social and political environment in the United States and the world?
Portia Munson: In the new installment, the structure is the same with the version I installed in 1996, but I am adding new objects. I am excited to exhibit this piece now, because it is an environmental piece, and it is about the death of nature. One of the many things that make me sad about the election is the negative impact the result will have on environmental issues. The installation is about nature, but it is full of artificial objects, and it is about the manufactured idea of beauty. I look at it as a funeral or a memorial. In a way I see it as the death of nature. I can’t help adding new objects to it; however, the majority is still the same. I created a very dense environment. I wanted to build an over-the-top and suffocating setting. There is beauty and nature, but it is all suffocating and fake. In the end, we are suffocating ourselves with our commodities.
— Do you have personal bond with each object?
PM: They are mostly objects I’ve found over time. I have always collected things that I am drawn to, but very few of them have personal meanings. I don’t have nostalgia connected to these objects. There is a series of paintings I made before, during, and after the installation, and in this exhibition, they will be exhibited separately outside the installation. Originally they were shown within the installation, but it will still be obvious that they relate to the piece. The same goes for another installation titled Functional Women, which also features paintings. This installation includes hundred tchotchke-like utilitarian objects that are all shaped like a woman. Pepper shakers, scissors, nutcrackers and many others all replicate women. The common theme in these installations is collecting, sorting, and making sense of the world where manufacturing is so excessive.
— Pink Project: Table started in 1994 with the New Museum’s Bad Girls exhibition. How has the collection evolved in 20 years?
PM: The versions I showed at Frieze last year and in Bad Girls were the same. I replaced some objects and but it pretty much stayed the same. I am still curious about the color pink and what it still signifies. I observe how colors evolve as gender identifiers. I was at a store yesterday and had the chance to see what has changed. There is still that separation between pink and blue, and blue is still for boys and pink is for girls. However, I came across stronger and darker tones of pink that made the color look bolder. I am also interested in the environmental aspect of the color. When I first installed the piece, it was very much about what pink means for identity and gender. The new piece I am showing in this exhibition is titled Her Coffin, and here I am interested in carcinogenic quality of pink. Now this color is being used a marketing tool, especially to sell pink bracelets for breast cancer awareness and to raise money for cancer research. The material they are using however is plastic and it is carcinogenic. The coffin and garden pieces are both about the death of nature, but also about the end of plastic. We are living in the plastic age right now, but imagine a time when there will be less plastic.
— Can you talk about your public project at the Bryant Park subway station?
PM: That series is about documenting this world, and it relates to a series of prints I will show in this exhibition, featuring seven dead birds I found on the side of the road or that friends gave me. I scan the bird and the flowers I collect from my own garden. Each bird is in the center of a flower mandala. I'm trying to document a moment in time. These flowers were blooming in this time of this day. I am also celebrating and honoring the birds. Mandalas are creating something very beautiful, perfect, and centering. A subway station in New York is place that is devoid of nature, so I wanted to introduce nature.
On view through February 11, 2017