Magazine article Artforum International

David Hullfish Bailey: Daniel Hug

Magazine article Artforum International

David Hullfish Bailey: Daniel Hug

Article excerpt

If American painters continue to doggedly mine the border between abstraction and representation, it is because they remain, in general, conflicted on the issue. Neither a painter nor really a sculptor, David Hullfish Bailey has found it more productive to speculate on the nature of the opposition itself rather than seek any kind of synthesis. Architecture, urban planning, and product design appear in his work as real-world sites of this ongoing aesthetic conflict, providing concrete instances of a figurative occupation of abstract space and vice versa.

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The reductivist argument for abstraction is easily reconciled with humble wood-shop practicality, yet the widespread suspicion persists that lurking inside every streamlined form are obscurantist, elitist claims. In this exhibition, Bailey demonstrates how the cultural ambivalence of the American public might be mobilized toward specific political ends. His central motif is a hunter's decoy, a "red-state" prop, but one with which Bailey, himself a hunter, is familiar. A representation that disrupts the natural order of the ecosystem, a decoy may be employed to either repel predators or lure prey. Here it does a little of both: Through a canny reorchestration of the old "bait and switch" routine, the owl, a mortal danger to the individual songbird, is instead employed to trap the species en masse, as, rather than flee, they gather together to defeat their common enemy. The exploitation of this fear-based response recalls nothing so much as the campaign shenanigans that secured George W. Bush's second term in office.

Bailey's particular interest lies in the aesthetics of the lure. The artist, accepting the limitations of his own technique, has produced a series of "preparatory" drawings and several finished decoys that distort the owl's features from expressionistically anxious one moment to cubistically cockeyed the next. …

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