Dave McKenzie, Portrait as a Ghost
Savage Gallery, 1430 SE 3rd, February 4 - March 19; Artist Talk and Screening at Reed College's Psych Auditorium, Feb 3, 7 pm
New York artist Dave McKenzie seems to understand that things can take on a deeper meaning when they stop working. He issued a run of ceramic mugs inscribed with the message, "REMEMBER, YOU ARE LOVED," but had them cast so that the tops are closed off just like the bottoms. In other words, they don't work--at least, not as you expect. He encourages people to place one in friends' cupboards next to all those "World's Best [fill-in-the blank]" mugs. When the fake mug is eventually pulled from the shelf, it serves no purpose other than to wittily relay a kind message. It is separated from the ubiquitous Hallmark messages by the fact that it has no utilitarian value. It just is. Like love, I guess.
McKenzie's show, Portrait as a Ghost, explores themes of communication and identity, but does so mostly with common materials, simple gestures, and low budget video work. He has cast self-portraits of himself as a bobblehead, written letters to loved ones in Braille, and turned a basketball inside out. One of the video pieces is the result of a story in the New York Times that called on Bill Clinton to have a more visible presence around his Harlem office. In We Shall Overcome, McKenzie, who is black, dons a suit and Clinton mask while walking through the streets of Harlem. He navigates the sidewalks in the cartoonish mask, onlookers greeting him with a mix of enthusiastic smiles and blank stares, while a version of the title song plays in the background.
McKenzie's work, like all good conceptual art, proves far better at raising questions than answering them. He charges ordinary objects and actions--like coffee mugs and lunchtime strolls--with mysterious, often strange significance. If his lecture at Reed College still leaves you longing for special attention, come by the opening at Savage (Friday Feb. 4, 6 pm) and enter your name in McKenzie's participatory piece, It's a Date. One lucky winner will be randomly chosen to go out to dinner with the artist, where they can share post-conceptual theories, ironic quips, and probably even some French fries.