ARTICLE ADAM WHITNEY NICHOLS
PHOTOGRAPHY MATTHU PLACEK
The paint was fresh at the premier of Ryan Johnson’s Self Storage, showing through December 15 at the Suzanne Geiss Company. The installation—Mr. Johnson’s first since 2010—included sculptures painted in delicate violets, blues, and grays. The paint fumes suggested he had only stopped painting because of the advancing crowd.
Despite the arrival of fashion and chatter, Mr. Johnson’s installation held a subtle, enchanting command of the room. As I began to circulate, the crowd grew noiseless and passed out of sight. In front of me stood a large rocking horse: blue, wooden, and seatless. Formed as if in full gallop, its rockers were a sad restriction.
Near it two lovers are a moment from embrace, their long fingers reminiscent of Indonesian shadow puppets (Mr. Johnson spent much of his childhood in Southeast Asia). The figures do not actually touch, and are, to their misfortune, ever-close.
Johnson’s mementos are playful and nostalgic at a glance, but upon further inspection, anxious in their liminal state; each object is wrestled to submission. Memories are, after all, impossible to fully grasp. They are personal, vivid, and mutable. In Self-Storage, we find a brilliant attempt to actualize the contours of his memories and their effect on his psyche. His last minute paint strokes suggest he was still wrestling to reveal their shape. This unfinished process is a welcome show of humility.
Several bronze miniatures, some of which are versions of larger works, are present throughout the room. One particularly emblematic piece depicts a man shackled to a ball and chain, with the ball in a wheelbarrow. Perhaps this is how to tackle memory: understand its substance and adjust to move forward.
And this might be a personal objective Johnson has yet to reach. A week after the opening—after the devastating Hurricane Sandy hit NYC—I returned to Suzanne Geiss. The doors were locked, but I peered through the glass and down the hall. There, I saw Mr. Johnson with a brush in hand, still painting.