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I visited 15 Orient the same afternoon six inches of snow fell on New York. Shelby Jackson opened the door to the brownstone with a muted cigarette in hand. He and Paul Gondry co-founded the salon-style gallery and collaborate on multimedia projects together—some heavy in abject performance (see “Shpongle”). A by-appointment, family-style space like 15 Orient’s can teach us a thing or two about the benefits of siting art quietly under everyone’s nose.
Boots off, we walked together into the space: a loosely converted, ground floor reception room where, in a not so distant past, houseguests might have left behind a calling card, or a pasty cough, or a low bid for someone else’s hand in marriage.
“The only thing we ask is that the art be seen under conditions of natural light,” Jackson speaks softly from the background. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust. A cushiony, white rug fills the room. There’s a window facing out to the snowy street. I scan a spackled ceiling and antique moldings.
Recently on view was the solo show “God is a Concept from a Story Come to Life” featuring the artist Justin Caguiat. From Manila, Philippines (b. 1989), he now lives in New York. Recent projects include this solo exhibition at 15 Orient; group exhibitions at The Loon, Kunsthalle Zürich, Shimizu Brand; and a book of writing published by Codétte.
His paintings are displayed at 15 Orient like occult tapestries would in some anti-cloister. Symbolist in appearance and breathtaking in color, his paintings are constellations of dreamy, connect-the-dot shapes. Faces, bodies, and fruits appear as if they’ve been pressed between the pages of a book.
Instead of an abstract for the show, we are given an excerpted passage from The Empire City (written by Paul Goodman and published in 1959). The narrator takes delight in things scented and seeping—as in, hard to contain.
Caguiat’s painting style echoes the 19th-century hybridization of French and Japanese visual cultures. We prettily refer to this fusion as Japonisme, a style made possible by the American commodore Matthew Perry, who belligerently parked a fleet of war ships at the shores of Japan and forced their closed-door policy to open for the West. Jackson nods his head and agrees that certain art histories hover in the works. He adds the Nabis and the Vienna School of painting as influences.
There’s a soft-core ritualism to the centerpiece of the show: an iron bed frame turned into a funeral pyre. Co-conceived by Caguiat and Jackson, Obliteration of the Past in the Brightness of the Present Kinesthetic Empathy is a body made of bread laid atop a taut sheet of linen. A Japanese Noh mask stands in for the face. Jackson explains that anyone at the show’s opening could eat the body. A cycle of destruction, replication, and idolatry gets represented: how we come to consume replicas of what we’ve destroyed.
Also included in the exhibition is a delicately elongated, taxidermic frog that’s been pinned to the wall; held back by a longstanding interest in things long gone.