In Kaari Upson’s first solo New York museum show, “Good thing you are not alone,” the California native goes in search of the perfect double as it relates to consumption, mass production, the ideal of America, and her relationship with her mother. Consisting of drawing, painting, sculpture, and video, the exhibition is centered by “Hers” and “Idiot’s Guide Womb Room,” an interactive installation, constructed of steel Costco shelves, urethane foam, aluminum, plastic, and wood, in which visitors can take a seat, watch videos of Upson dressed as her mother and performing rituals, read various Complete Idiot’s Guide books, and check out piles of life-size replicas of her mother made of latex, synthetic hair, fabric, foam, duct tape, and debris. Upson, who has portrayed her mother in more than thirty videos, sees it as an “amalgamation of it being not just my own real mom but a multiplicity of a type of woman that’s transitioning from being objectified, like a certain particular age where she almost becomes invisible,” she tells curator Margot Norton on the audio guide. “So that idea that she can almost have agency through her invisibility allowed me to go up in spaces and do very strange things.”
Upson references her mother’s fondness for soda in “Teeth on Pepsi Plinth,” rows of fossilized aluminum-cast cans (“Lifetime Supply”) with crystalline teeth (“Crocodile Mother”) on top of them, part of her ongoing “MMDP (My Mother Drinks Pepsi)” project. She recasts discarded furniture into drooping wall pieces that recall the work of Lynda Benglis and Claes Oldenburg, in “Brown Recluse,” “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue,” and “You Don’t Need a Rope to Pinch a Stranger’s Butt.” In the intense video Split Eye, Upson films her eye in close-up, using glass and mirrors to create intriguing, often disturbing effects. And in her latest body of work, a series of graphic drawings explores a family living in a Las Vegas tract house, incorporating such phrases as “Where all autonomy is lost” in “home’” and “Caught in a pattern of endless reproduction” in “event horizon.” In “Good thing you are not alone,” Upson makes the private public, and the public private, delving into the subconscious of contemporary American culture with a forensic approach, uncovering a repetitive world from which there appears to be no escape.