Darren Bader has been quietly and sublimely redefining the artist-as-curator archetype for almost a decade now with a flurry of challenging exhibitions in New York, L.A., London and Tokyo—in addition to publishing a couple of groundbreaking books to boot. With his latest show Chad Ochocinco, the young upstart has matured delicately with a tour de force for the over-educated yet sadly passionless Facebook Generation. Bader’s curatorial flow is employed as both an antidote to the self-congratulatory big ideas of Conceptual art and an alternative to the snarky strategies of the early 2000s.
The specter of America’s scourge of eating disorders looms over Proposal for filling your swimming pool with couscous. The work utilizes a rather banal architectural model of a large home with a backyard pool which the artist has filled with couscous. Bader might make you smile thinking of the possibilities on a large scale, but the bloated actuality of this proposal is no joke. Close inspection of Virginia (Table, Jeff condoms, graprefruit, pineapple), a collaboration with the artist Ara Dymond, finds the expiration date on the personalized condoms that rest along with a pineapple and grapefruit on a shaky table with ridiculously skinny green legs is not that much longer then the natural expiration of the fruit’s freshness—in fact the produce might very well outlast the prophylactics.
In Proposal for Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Two Segments and Sphere’ the gesture of pouring extra virgin olive oil on a slab of marble as homage to Hepworth’s seminal 1935-36 sculpture easily evokes Rome in all its architectural and gastronomical glory—and certainly made me want reach for a hunk of bread to start sopping up the golden liquid. What may at first glance seem like a graciously earnest routine that perhaps verges on the obscurely juvenile is, on further inspection, a radically hilarious act of art making, much like an NFL star receiver changing his name to an idiomatically wrong Spanish interpretation of his jersey number is a humorous and defiant act of reinvention. Bader further plays on football star Chad Johnson’s (nee Ochocinco’s) re-branding by graphically affixing a white T-shirt with the number 85 scrawled in magic marker on a photograph of a classical male sculpture just above the marble genitals.
Living in the gallery among the various sculptures and framed works are two adorable goats that consume hay and sleep on straw beds. Their physical presence provides a playful counterpoint to the art-viewing experience, yet the fact that they are available for purchase startles one back into the reality of a consumer-based exhibition. As Duchamp before him fully repossessed a manufactured item as if by a magical act of alchemy, Bader creates a new breed of readymade, which pushes the envelope in terms of signature style and integrity. By affixing his name to the title of a work by an artist like John Wesley, who strives for a signature look to his paintings, Bader playfully yet cunningly calls into the question the very notion of originality in a marketplace which seems to place a higher value on cleverness than quality. To further challenge the notion of ownership, Bader presents this work simultaneously as his own and the original artist’s, further blurring the lines between curator and creator.