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Courched in Longing: Jessica Jackson Hutchins's Domestic Scene

"I Do Choose,” a new exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Jessica Jackson Hutchins on view through June 6 at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York, resembles an artfully abject living room. Charmingly uneven ceramic side tables share space with detourned furniture; one large-scale painting boasts two couch cushions, tucked into improvised canvas pockets. Surfaces are slashed, linen scrims are gunked up with thick deposits of pigment, and paintings are complicated with the occasional swath of denim or dinner plate. The materials, Hutchins admitted, have “a kind of grossness. It can take a long time before I find the beauty in them.” Objects —chairs, cups, printed matter, old ceramic forms —spend time in storage in Portland, Oregon, where the artist lives. She mulls, considers, ponders juxtapositions. “That’s part of the letting go and the surprise and the interaction with materials of the world —letting them be, letting them have a voice,” Hutchins said. “It feels like a dialogue, an engagement with stuff.”

This is an invigorating, unwieldy exhibition, awash with unexpected, slightly oblique religious references. (The show’s name is a Bible quote taken from Jesus, agreeing to heal a leper; there’s a painting called “The Ark”; a sculptural assemblage of couch,plaster, and ceramic is dubbed “Book of Acts.”) While
painting in a more or less abstract vein, Hutchins found that certain compositions began to conjure seascapes. The artist, who is married to former Pavement frontman Steve Malkmus, jokingly suggested “Watery, Domestic” as an alternative title for this exhibition, with its jumbling of oceanic undercurrents and abused furniture.

Other works here toy with language: “In Thicket” has adimensional newsprint-collage comma jutting from its surface; “O.D.” earns its title from a circular ceramic object paired with a letter-shaped piece of a screen door from Hutchins’s Portland home. The latter conjunction was accidental, she said —she wasn’t trying to make a statement piece about overdoses —and most of the time when she’s working with language it’s in a non-linear sense: less to make words than to play with letters. (She’s currently holding onto a set of church pews in her studio, contemplating cutting and rearranging them to form giant Ms or Ws.) Hutchins’s use of found objects has evolved over the years. “In the ’90s I made a lot of work around beer packaging and bottles —I was drinking a lot of beer,” she explained, simply. “And then when I was drinking more coffee, coffee cups came in. When I had children, children’s clothes.” Now the things she incorporates are a bit more diffuse. And after moving to Berlin for a few years in 2011 —bringing no materials along with her —she said thatshe began making comparatively traditional paintings, albeit ones that incorporate expanses of transparent linen and the occasional folding chair, dangling alongside the stretcher bars like a wink to Rauschenberg.

When Hutchins places masses of plaster or ceramic on household furniture —certain pieces of which have recently been donated by her in-laws —it’s hard not to read them as figures: bloated, bereft, lonely. “Ultrasuede Wave,” which has the artist scrawling over the titularsynthetic fabricwith oil stick, features a boulder-sized hunk of plaster plopped onto a soggy-looking couch. (Hutchins, who said she often points to literature with her works’ titles, also sees the plaster blob as a stand-in for the elusive white whale of “Moby Dick.”) In “Acid Blotter,” a frozen cascade of paper-mache spills off the lip of a chair. “The way we quickly read a ‘body,’ that’s our desperation to connect,” Hutchins said, when asked if these raw forms can be interpreted as human substitutes. “That longing is really important content for me. Whatever intellectual or conceptual ideas I have, they ultimately have to be couched in this bodily longing.”