Sondheim Finalists 2016: Darcie Book plays with hyperreality and high abstraction

The curdled psychedelia of Darcie Book's art embraces abundance and build-up by way of piled-on paint, latex, and gold leaf—sometimes over birch—and luxuriates in the ways materials drip, fold, coagulate, and clump. The ten sculptural paintings on exhibition all recall the strange, circular set of associations wherein the sublime often reminds us of something we saw on a screen—the Internet kid logic that when the natural world looks especially dope, it doesn't look like the natural world at all and just feels so extra: A sunset so golden and gorgeous it feels HD, as if it hopped out of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's 'Bound 2' music video; a puddle of water in the woods full of muck and dirt swirling around suggests a Photoshop-smudged, noisy slab of expressionism.

Similarly, Book's work evokes the recognizable gone hyperreal yet highly abstracted: In ‘Sand Sea,’ a crumpled, resplendent pillow, and ‘Venetian Red Fan Form,’ radiantly painted latex contorted into a folded fan shape. Others offer some grounding, quotidian precedent for what you see—such as the green and black military camouflage-like pattern of ‘Malachit’—and some ecstatic, slippery takes on the everyday: ‘Moth,’ a stack of white with earthy red streaks, seemingly hung over a box covered in reflective, translucent dark colors—like a moth's wings; and ‘Orchid Artifact,’ a tiny, toothy, crumpled glob of yellow and pink that resembles a stomped-on flower (or a little luchador mask, depending on your sophistication or how much stock you put into context clues such as the titles of pieces).

The most striking piece suggests a whole tableau whose context is just out of reach: ‘Jasper’ is a monolith draped in viscous, hallucinatory, frilly sheets of latex with a gold leaf smear on the wall behind it, like a polluted sci-fi sunset, the piece's deep reds, purples, pinks, and blacks, reflecting off the gold and back again. It's like the most arresting and dumpiest parts of a Rauschenberg plucked off those physically imposing, heady canvases and forced to stand naked and alone. And there is a kind of magical, alchemical approach here: paint drips appear frozen and physics is flipped with the paint flowing against gravity. Book bottles immediacy by making her work and materials look as if they're not quite finished or haven't dried all the way—the ennui and anxiety of the incomplete.

Still, Book's process-considering postmodern work is profoundly accessible. You can imagine some street-wear fuccboi rocking an all-over print on a T-shirt cribbed from Book's work; and it seems inevitable that Book will be ripped off by some Riccardo Tisci type at some point or another. Near the other more journalistic Sondheim finalists, especially the just so full-stop devastating Monument Quilt with which it shares a room, Book's work might come off as too heady or less significant, but resist that philistine reading. Book's work is heavy-hearted. It sags and bunches, like someone's sinking expression after hearing some disappointing news—a melancholy droop touches every one of these expressive, immersive, accumulative pieces.

And while Book's work isn't conventionally reflective of nature, it does provide a sense of the IRL turned ecstatically, eerily familiar. Here you see elements of the real world shoved into flux—folded, ridged, and bent, just all out of whack, twisted into stiff, trippy mimesis.

The Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize finalist show is on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art through July 31. City Paper will be posting reviews of all of the finalists leading up to the award announcement on July 9. For more information on the Sondheim awards, click here.

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