Sue Scott Gallery

David Shapiro

Stephen Maine
Artillery, September 2011

WITH A CHARACTERISTIC combination of chutzpah and humility, David Shapiro reveals the alternately intriguing and boring details of his identity as both a customer and a client in a recent series of drawings featuring fastidiously rendered, life-size facsimiles of his bills, receipts, cancelled checks and payment stubs dated 2010 — a complete compendium from last year, according to gallery information. In 12 enormous scroll drawings (as long as 30 feet) in color pencil, ink and gouache, Shapiro has reproduced the records of each month's monetary transactions, arranged in a rough grid, like specimens or evidence. Accordingly, several of these scrolls were presented in elegant, dark wood vitrines; the rest were displayed in purpose-built wall mounts.
Like a stone tossed into a pond, Shapiro's deceptively simple gestures generate radiating conceptual ripples. For this exhibition entitled "Money Is No Object," and others, Shapiro usually makes reference to an economy of some kind. Reflecting on the relation of property and consumption in a 2005 project called "Left for Dead," the artist took possession of dozens of decrepit bicycles, chained but evidently abandoned in and around New York City, and relocated them to Socrates Sculpture Park on the Queens waterfront. (The chains he hung from a sort of May pole.) "Consumed," a 2003 installation, consisted of two years' worth of the artist's empty food and beverage containers neatly stacked on supermarket-style shelving, postulating the gallery as aesthetic bodega and art as artifact of one of the artist's most biologically essential activities.

"Consumed" was also a metaphorical self-portrait, and "Money Is No Object" picks up that theme. The paper trail includes supermarket receipts, scrawled order forms from Chinese take-out, a Chelsea parking lot's claim checks, fading cash register tapes from Utrecht art supplies and, amid the sheer ordinariness, ticket stubs for the Louis Armstrong House Museum (two adults, one child). The work's tone might be exhibitionistic if the content weren't so quotidian — nothing racy or illicit here. Still, the viewer experiences a pang of voyeurism scanning the artist's legal bills and airline tickets, and a telltale invoice from Roto-Rooter.

If critiquing rampant consumerism, Shapiro indicts himself as an accomplice; if kvetching about corporate domination of private life, he displays his victimization. But surely the project is fueled by love, not by anger. Strength, not spite, sustained the mental focus and steady hand required to reiterate in exquisite detail the documents' mash-up of printed and handwritten characters, misaligned time stamps, scratchy trails left on running-dry paper tapes, the vagaries of a foreign hand struggling with unfamiliar language, the soothing institutional palette of off-whites, pastel hues and endless variations on gray. As a narrative, the work's diaristic form testifies to battles lost and won: an indefensible motor vehicle citation ("no front plate"); a $2,972 federal income tax refund check. The indefatigability with which the artist approaches his subject and method mirrors the relentless struggle to keep on with the business of living, and the psychic imperative to take what pleasure we can in its incidental visual riches.

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