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Johanna Jackson And Chris Johanson's "Middle Riddle"

By Alec Coiro

May 23, 2017

When I went to meet the inimitable Lisa Alvarado at Bridget Donahue Gallery, I had a chance to talk with the gallerist herself about the preponderance of utilitarian art that’s found its way through gallery lately: the Alvarado’s pieces that are used as part of Natural Information Society’s live shows; the edible, wearable, zine-able art of Susan Cianciolo, which we’ve covered previously; and the fantastical furniture of Jessi Reaves. The creation of utilitarian art with its inherent assertion of use value seems like a fundamentally anti-capitalist gesture if I understand my Marx correctly (which no doubt I don’t). Art with a utilitarian aspect also seems like a way of exploring abstraction without the risk of losing the connection with the human. This is a connection that is certainly not lost in the furniture-centric art that Johanna Jackson & Chris Johanson present in Middle Riddle, a show that connects directly with the literal genesis of our humanity: our home.

While there is a combination of painting, sculpture, and furniture on display in Middle Riddle, the show is probably best conceived of as a single installation that partially recreates a room in a home, but also very much remains a collection of objects in a gallery. When thought of this way the furniture becomes sculpture, and the paintings on the wall become decorative compliments to the furniture in a room that exists in some parallel but alien world.

While my opening remarks might imply that the commonality between the art on display at the Journal Gallery and Bridget Donahue Gallery is part of some New York trend, it should be noted that Jackson and Johanson are based in Los Angeles. They have been doing collaborative shows for a few years, and according to the Journal’s press release, they have also collaborated on furniture in the past as part of a commission from the Hammer Museum.

The individual works, the paintings in particular, are totally fascinating, and the images we’ve collected here go a long way toward communicating the experience of Middle Riddle, but for the full effect, we would recommend going to The Journal Gallery and spending some time inhabiting the room.