too bad for heaven, too good for hell – The Brooklyn Rail
March 23 – May 7, 2022
The ten fabric sculptures exhibited in too bad for heaven, too good for hell at Mrs. prove that Rose Nestler is an exceptional artist, able to align the formal manipulation of her materials and the conceptual contours of her message so closely that the result is both utterly personal and utterly compelling. Nestler is a highly skilled craftswoman, so her billowing satin skirts, drooping leather calla lilies, and hardwood dowels are executed with consummate precision (though she outsources the making of some elements, like the broom). arch of Flying Pomade #22022 or the sandblasted mirror of Raise and fold, 2022). But more impressive than the technical sophistication of the works and the appropriate alignment of form with message is its intellectual rigor: Nestler’s wall sculptures depicting proscenium scenes, truncated bodies or flying devices are carefully researched and carefully refined entry points into deeply held vernacular belief systems. . These pre-modern or magical ways of understanding nature run through us like ancestral arteries, so they feel extremely familiar to us, even if they don’t belong to us personally. Like Mike Kelley and Andy Warhol, for example, Nestler works within a lexicon of pop iconography to reveal deep truths channeled equally through shared history and typed social roles. All of this is difficult to balance, and Nestler’s consistent success in doing so puts him in league with other sculptors like Gordon Hall, Fawn Krieger and Nickola Pottinger whose clarity of vision is so strong their works rarely fail.
In Mrs., Nestler’s protagonists are the women of folklore and fairy tales who wielded power as tinkerers, healers, sages, oracles or keepers of nature’s secrets. As feminism today deploys the language of fluidity and fairness, Nestler taps into traditions from other times and places (real and imagined) that provide similar lessons – first of all the incompatibility of abstract binaries with the reality of lived experience. Throughout the exhibition, Nestler examines the dichotomies young/old, good/evil, high/low, work/play and, as the title suggests, good/evil. Unlike the neon color block contrasts of earlier athletics-themed work, here the artist adopts a palette of burgundy, black, and white, accented with yellow cheesecloth or the shock of a pastel green glove. These are the colors of these populist places that suspend reality like the cabaret, the lacquered steakhouse or the dark cinema. Nestler’s work therefore sits at the heart of creativity and convention, negotiating the tensions between these familiar associations and various distant histories that fit into our worldviews like missing puzzle pieces. As a result, the work opens with revelation: in one example, the hard-edged shapes of pink MDF wrapped in clear silicone that secure the broom to the wall in Flying Pomade #1 and #2 (2022) reference to a mind-altering agent that witches were said to coat their brooms, waiting to be absorbed upon contact with bare flesh. The cackling of the old witch therefore coexists with a hidden eroticism, a categorical inversion of age and attraction that leaves intact occultism as a place where the uncontrollable or the unknown cannot be regulated.
Nestler invests the obscure tradition with new relevance elsewhere as well. In Vernacular architecture (2022), a tower of four alabaster stones, Nestler hollowed out small box-like rooms and populated them with miniature armchairs and golden Barbie pumps. Evoking both Roman sarcophagi and Colleen Moore’s castle, this sculpture is Nestler’s first for the exhibition and serves as the conceptual core of the exhibition. Inspired by a walk last fall on a well-known fairy trail in New Jersey – here Nestler finds himself in the company of Robert Smithson, another time recursion researcher at a nearby site –Vernacular architecture recognizes the power of fairies as messengers of the unseen truths of nature. According to the artist, in Irish belief, if an erected tower of stones remains intact overnight, one can build on it. But if knocked down, the site is a fairy path and cannot be obstructed. Such practices, which existed before the industrial revolution, teach us to seek the consent of nature. The ferocious protection of nature by benevolent fairies was therefore all the more pointed in that it would also have safeguarded all these beliefs prior to mechanization and the “enlightenment” of daily life.
The playful absurdity and deadly earnestness of Nestler’s sculptures lend them remarkable significance, and her easy marriage of such contrasting affects suggests that she is far from exhausting the power of her theme. Bridget’s home (2022), for example, contaminates the almost antiseptic aim of dollhouses as agents of indoctrination through the play of (female) domestic work. In the vacant apartments of his torso are fluorescent fairy votives and a flaccid silicone candle that appears through a hole above the structure’s door. The humor of a helpless dollhouse topped with swollen breasts with wicked nipples works in concert with Nestler’s more cerebral interest in pedagogy and the subversion of its normative expectations. The latter is visible throughout the show, as in the soapstone tongues that sway over the lower edge of the elaborately pleated stage in Three languages (2022). These insinuate that popular subcultural sites like nightclubs are more likely to teach life lessons than the vaunted and supposedly transcendent spaces of high culture.
Nestler’s comparative inquiry into ancient knowledge and contemporary culture – or the behavior sanctioned and illicitd by capitalism – is nowhere more powerfully expressed than in a pair of works that draw on the dark fable of Hans Christian Andersen The Red Shoes. In this story, a girl is doomed to dance forever for her futile decision to wear the eponymous shoes to church. Eventually, his ultimate punishment is amputation. In Yarn (2021), Nestler features a burgundy skirt in a circle, surrounded by a pinwheel of red-heeled feet. A large stopper seems to nail the assembly to the wall like a dagger, creating a centripetal force that opposes the centrifugal energy of the shoe ring. Like the ancient goddess Fortuna, Nestler spins the wheel of fate, imagining a contemporary world invested with those helpful critical dimensions of the past, like ancient polytheism entrusting entire realms of wisdom to female gods. nearby, in Satisfy Slime Storytime (2022), the only video work on view, Nestler’s hands manipulate glue as a voice reads Andersen’s story aloud. Referencing a genre of niche TikTok videos, the video is its own kind of vortex: totally captivating, you lose track of time in front of it, while the accelerated tempo of the story makes you aware of its passage as you think quickly to follow the rhythm.
Consciously going back and forth in time, at a time Yarn and Satisfy Slime Storytime propose the possibility of living temporality differently, challenging the standardization of time which orders work and bodies in a linearity turned towards the future and towards production. Feminist scholar Elizabeth Freeman has called it chrononormativity – a normalization imposed by the male potentates and captains of industry in history. Yet, as Salman Rushdie observed of The Wizard of Oz, that famous film based on the supernatural power of other red shoes, “Men’s power is illusory…Women’s power is real.” At Mme, Nestler’s work has profound implications, if only we take rejection and the invisible seriously.