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Jermaine Ollivierre’s Enlightened Sculptures in “Thy Kingdom Comes Apart” at AUTOMAT Gallery

Logan Cryer sees Jermaine Ollivierre’s exhibit at Automat and writes that “Ollivierre relies on the power of the art object as a miniature site for focused enlightenment.“ Go see this powerful exhibit before it closes on May 20, 2023.

A corner of a gallery with a dark concrete floor shows two pieces of art, one a sculpture with a bar stool, a pair of white leather sneakers and the other, a portrait in black pencil on white canvas, of a Black man with a mustache looking out at you from a V-shaped, curled canvas or paper.
Jermaine Ollivierre, Installation view of “Thy Kingdom Comes Apart” Image courtesy of the artist

Saturday May 13th, 2023 marked the 38th anniversary of the MOVE bombing in Cobbs Creek. As a toddler in 1985, Jermaine Ollivierre grew up blocks away from 6221 Osage Ave. His solo exhibition, Thy Kingdom Comes Apart, is a poetic depiction of the undulating liminal space between trauma and understanding. Ollivierre contrasts the emotional heft of racialized violence with the mundanity of his materials, which include clothing, furniture, sneakers, and pennies. His subdued artworks are diagrammatic. They are the visual representation of a life that continues to move forward despite walking on shaky ground. At a time where artists equivocate immersion with empathy, Ollivierre relies on the power of the art object as a miniature site for focused enlightenment.

The smallest artwork in Thy Kingdom Comes Apart, “Footwork,” is made out of copper tape. The tape is shaped into the outline of a sneaker print and is placed high on a cement column within Automat’s gallery space. The piece is easy to miss without closer inspection and beneath it sits objects that aren’t listed on the gallery map at all; a small square mirror panel that reflects a scattering of pennies on the floor. Copper and pennies are recurring materials within the exhibition. At times their presence is inconspicuous, like street pennies that were determined to be worth less than the effort of bending over. In other instances, they become key components of the sculptural work.

A photo of two art pieces in a gallery shows a small black hoodie mounted on the left wall, dwarfed by two large cardboard boxes stacked high and towering over the small hoodie. The boxes are printed with the words “Mass Incarceration” repeated diagonally on each side of the box.
Jermaine Ollivierre, Installation view of Thy Kingdom Comes Apart. Image courtesy of the artist

“Untitled now” is a $25 cardboard storage box for pennies. Its red government ink and 50 holes verify the existence 50 rolls of pennies. The piece sits nobly on a small shelf and is adjacent to a looming sculpture that centers the gallery space. “Brick by Brick” consists of three hulking cardboard boxes that are stacked one on top of the other, reaching nearly 10 feet high. The boxes are stamped all over with red ink that reads in large letters “Mass Incarceration,” and in smaller type “visually inspect to verify.” The front side of each box is covered in hundreds of holes, and a penny can be viewed within all of them. When viewed from the back, the sleeve of a black t-shirt can be seen jutting out between the top two boxes. It is as if the shirt is being crushed completely.

A photo shows a closeup of white Air Jordan’s with red shoelaces, that hover above a white leather bar stool. The red shoelaces disappear upwards giving them the appearance of levitating through magic.
Jermaine Ollivierre, Close up of “Whites only” 9 feet x 15” x 20”, Artist’s Air Jordan 14s, red shoelaces, found bar stool. Image courtesy of the artist

Another dramatic display of force occurs within the piece “Whites only.” The sculpture consists of Air Jordan 7s (dutifully noted on the gallery map as belonging to Ollivierre) that have been suspended from the ceiling via a pair of long red shoelaces. The shoes hang over a high white stool and just barely avoid contact with it. Slight breezes sway the sneakers and draw sharp attention to the whisper of space beneath them. There is humor to the whole set up — the specificity of the shoes and the absurdly long laces. The suspension guarantees the cleanliness of both the chair and the Jordans and within the gallery space, the highly valued shoes remain safe from harm. However there is an eeriness in the dangling motion and again, clothing, that is indicative of corporal harm.

A group of four art works sit in the corner of a gallery, in which a rusted metal pillar occupies the foreground.The art includes two found-art pieces, one with white Air Jordan sneakers, one with a football helmet and one that is a drawing on a curled piece of paper or canvas of a Black man with a mustache. The fourth is an outline in pink tape of a foot placed high on the metal pillar.
Jermaine Ollivierre, Installation view of Thy Kingdom Comes Apart. Image courtesy of the artist

Clothing, like the various found materials in Thy Kingdom Comes Apart, has flexible symbolism within the space. They are surreal detritus in “Enough Air,” which features clothing pinned to the wall by a suspended living room chair. “Family Ties” uses a football helmet wrapped in ornate fabrics to create an endearing object of protection. In “Untouchables” a single item of clothing, again hung high on the wall, represents the inner child. A small black hoodie, fit for a three-year-old, stands erect against the gallery wall. In its height, the child’s clothing is visible to adults who normally would have to look down to see it.

Ollivierre has crafted an intricate display of self within his debut solo exhibition of sculptural work in Philadelphia, and it would be a privilege to once again see his work within his hometown.

Thy Kingdom Comes Apart, to May 20, 2023. Automat Collective.