Nick Lenker’s destruction and creation myths at Pageant

Nick Lenker transforms himself into a sacrificial druid at Pageant Gallery. In his exhibit The Destruction and Creation of Man, he stirs up a voodoo brew of digital and handmade, ceramic and video, fire and vomit and water. The mix might give the witches of Macbeth a case of envy.

lenker golem
Nick Lenker, Golem # 2 “Prima Materia,” ceramic, glaze, wood, adobe, string lights, and in the right rear, Ascension,wood, ceramic, glaze, oil, fire; the golem is a nearly life-size effigy of the artist as sacrificial rain king

The story he weaves has no real plot, just a ritual at its base and an idea of archetypal myths. An effigy of the artist, coated in cracking slip, lies on a bed of fire in the center of the gallery’s main space.

Nick Lenker, The Destruction and Creation of Man, video, viewed through a peephole; the artist/demigod is sitting in a ring of fire

A video (through a peephole) shows the artist undergoing a ritual trial of earth, fire and then water. A ladder to heaven (the ceramic treads were lit at the opening) suggest another challenge by fire.
But it’s the art objects, the things you can take home, that really take the cake: Ceramic urns and capes are props from the ritual. And “paintings” that are really printed digital images on canvas either capture pieces and ideas of the ritual.

Nick Lenker, The Destruction and Creation of Man, Edition 2 of 5, archival pigment print on canvas, ceramic, luster, ceramic decals, plaster, gold leaf, wood

Some of the paintings look very photographic. Others look very old-masters oily, with dark dark backgrounds and vivid flames. The flatness of the digital images, which make no pretense of being otherwise with their visible collage junctures, is a surprising contrast to the worked-over hand-made quality of the cast and painted plaster frames. The result, an ominous gothic take on traditional gilt frames is a startling juxtaposition to the cyberpaintings, which from a distance do pass for something of another era. But there’s also something video-game-ish about them, as there is in the ladder to another level of reality.

Nick Lenker Prop # 3 “Puke Bucket,” ceramic, glaze, ceramic decals, luster, chain, vomit

The crazy ceramic jugs that purports to hold vomit from the ritual quotes (consciously or unconsciously) Nicole Cerubini, with its cup handles and chains. But these chains are S&M, not come-hither necklaces–or maybe they are another variety of come hither. And the hand/lid covering the mouth of the jug, which is the mouth of an upturned face, is creepy with pierced finger tips (or futuristic loops developed by the next generation). The chains drape down from the loops to the cup handles. The conceit of a hand over a mouth of a face for a jug holding vomit is definitely something to write home about. Another jug is a two-faced Ewer with beautiful, dense glazes.

Nick Lenker, Prop # 4 “Ewer,” ceramic, glaze, luster, ceramic decals; the ewer is Janus-like, with two mouth spouts

It’s clear from the pieces in the show that Lenker comes from a ceramics background. But he’s reaching far beyond its limits, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. I don’t know what kind of peyote buttons Lenker is smoking, but clearly he’s having some visions!