Jessi Reaves
Jessi Reaves, installation view of “Jessi Reaves II,” 2019. Photo: Gregory Carideo, © Jessi Reaves, Courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue NYC

Jessi Reaves

New York

Bridget Donahue

Jessi Reaves, in her second solo presentation with the gallery (on view through May 12), continues to work the magic that has made her a rising young cult figure of contemporary art. Following on the heels of commissions for the Carnegie International Triennial (and a residency at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater), this show includes eight of her wonderfully strange, furniture-sculpture hybrids.

Having studied design and painting at RISD and worked part-time for an upholsterer, Reaves knows her way around furnishings. She first gained attention for her transformations of hallowed Modernist designs, which she reworked into irreverent objects with idiosyncratic lives of their own. If a Noguchi glass-top coffee table was the sophisticated pride and joy of the family, for instance, Reaves’s “knockoff” version was the offbeat black sheep, with a base made of gloppy sawdust and glue or car fenders rather than carefully carved walnut.

In this new body of work, many of her upcycled furniture pieces act more like art, functioning as a means of pulling viewers into an alternate universe rather than offering a place to rest one’s feet or drink. But the atmosphere is still uncannily domestic, not least because Reaves filled half the gallery with a platform covered in brown shag carpeting, which mimics a sunken living room. It’s a bit like coming home from a long trip to find that your belongings are, in fact, alive, and have paired off and morphed. A lighting fixture made from a white wicker remnant, for instance, sprouts little lampshades on one side and gem-like light bulbs on the other.

The atmosphere feels straight out of late 1970s, early ’80s suburbia, but not nostalgic exactly. (Reaves was born in 1986.) In Blue Heart Shelf (2019), three Knoll Cesca Chairs—those mass-produced staples of ’70s and ’80s dining tables, with their rectangular backs, caned seats, and tubular steel bases—are stacked irregularly in a ladder-like metal frame. A strip of stiff woven material, painted lipstick coral, runs down one side like tight clothing, bulging in spots like flesh. Strands of a gold-beaded curtain with stars and moons hang on another side. A blue Plexiglas box with little hearts cut into it sits at eye level. The urge is to peer into the box and behind the beads—a position of curiosity and voyeurism that we frequently find ourselves in with Reaves’s work. In this case, we seem to be catching a glimpse into the home life of a teenage girl.

Reaves is working in a mode of sculptural assemblage that might bring to mind artists like Isa Genzken or Edward Kienholz, but her carefully constructed objects feel highly relatable because they are human-scaled, and we all know what it’s like to use well-worn furniture. In Walking up was getting into discipline, nyc stick shelf (2019), Reaves fit a gauzy yellow sheath over a bric-a-brac shelving system she built. Sticks poke out like truncated arms in sleeves with no holes, while an open zipper invites us to get close and look inside to see the vaguely corporeal, gloppy mixture of sawdust and glue used to bind the components together.

Even though everything feels strangely familiar here, even comforting in its domesticity, Reaves makes it all alien enough for us to squirm just a bit. It’s a good feeling.