Junk Pirate Rocks

Yesterday, during a dialog at Sight School, Julia Hamilton mentioned the pleasure she found in familiar objects.

I experienced this delight, over and over, when I visited Junk Pirate, Pete Glover‘s solo show at The Compound Gallery. Glover works at a junk store (when he’s not co-directing Rowan Morrison Gallery with Narangkar Glover).

Over the years, he’s amassed an impressive collection of objects. He’s lovingly composed these objects into shadow boxes, picture frames and vitrines. The show is a collection of collections, filtered through an unabashed love of popular culture and humor. It’s like the garage sale of a fabulous window display artist.

Junk Pirate exhibition view, detail

The objects are nostalgic, curious, and insouciant. Some are truly visually arresting, particularly a composition of fluorescent orange water guns in a black shadow box. Art history buffs might enjoy a chuckle as they recall Claes Oldenburg’s Ray Gun Mfg. Co. in relation to this work.

Pete Glover's assemblage of orange water guns

A few works suggest glimmers of the transgressive or anti-social, such as a found photograph of a man with one eye, or a class photograph in which every kid’s portrait has an “x” drawn over it. But despite his participation in street/skate culture, Glover rarely indulges in cred-proving, candid “how effed is that” photos. His eye for the peculiar is more amusement-arcade than in-your-face.

In yesterday’s dialog, featured guest Glen Helfand suggested the idea of “added value.” That is, an artist might start with something cheap and through the investment of labor, creativity and display, the object gains value, both monetarily, visually, and perhaps psychologically. In contrast with the whimsy of oddities in Wunderkammers, Pete displays a fanboy’s attention to Complete Sets. This unabashed embrace of sentiment and nostalgic 80s amusements reveals itself in his devotion to tokens, cards, video game controllers and jokily branded popcorn bags. Kitsch, promotional collateral and residue of material life collide.

The show is largely about appropriation, popular memory, composition and display. Scented stickers, for example, are framed without glass to encourage interaction. The most successful works include vitrines of board game characters and “nipples” sorted by color. The results are graphic, striking, miniature and absorbing. These offer more to read, infer and return to.

What I love about Junk Pirate is that not all the cases are art. They are all clearly re-configurations of recognizable things. A few objects transcend their humble origins to become a dynamic hybrid of art/collections/decoration/keepsakes. In a brilliant stroke, Glover extended the gaming theme to the pricing of the works, so that a roll of a die determines the price to be paid. This reinforces the objects/collections non-art identities, and refers back to the chance in Glover’s procurement process of discovering and identifying treasures in mounds of detritus.

Junk Pirate is the Compound Gallery’s first show at its beautiful new location on 65th Street. The gallery is housed in a grand foyer complemented by lots of windows and two side bays: one holds a tiny gallery for drawings; the other houses Professor Squirrel Shop, an adorably appointed indie mart with properly twee décor and accessories for sale. Fittingly, Junk Pirate is sited perfectly between a commercial (albeit indie) venture, and an exhibit of fine art.