Martin Basher | Devil at the Gates of Heaven
10 October – 4 November 2017
Starkwhite is pleased to present Devil at the Gates of Heaven by Martin Basher from 6 October to 4 November 2017. First presented at the University of Auckland’s George Fraser Gallery as the practical component of a 4-year fine art doctoral thesis, this sculptural installation follows our recent presentation of Hawaiian Tropic at Starkwhite (1-26 August 2017). As Basher’s doctoral document, this new exhibition may be read as something of a coda to the previous show, along with Basher’s earlier Jizzy Velvet (2015), and ‘Martin Basher’ (2014).
For a nearly a decade, Basher’s practice has focused in on the forms and imagery of retail space. The sharp linear forms of commercial display materials, including acrylic sheet, mirror film, fluorescent lights and extruded aluminium, along with the saturated hues of liquor, mouthwash, hair products and holiday advertizing have become an enduring lexicon for the artist. This investigation also formed the basis for Basher’s doctoral research, which situated his work in the rich lineage of art-makers concerned with commercial display. Consumption is now an integral part of life; Basher’s practice is a consideration of the ways consumption sites and consumption choices reveal unspoken aspirations, longings and urges.
In the hyper-commercial world we now live in, global retail grosses well in excess of US$20 trillion a year. The overwhelming bulk of our visual communication exists solely to facilitate this retail consumption. Our daily lives are so dominated by consumption that it would be hard to overstate its centrality; a case can be made that the acquisition of commodities now serves as the fundamental means of self-expression. As Harvard University theorist Margaret Crawford writes,
“The ethos of consumption has penetrated every sphere of our lives. As culture, leisure, sex, politics and even death turn into commodities, consumption increasingly constructs the world”
Further, she suggests that when consumption becomes a fundamental part of culture, the act of consuming is itself a constitutional act:
“If the world is understood through commodities, then personal identity depends on ones ability to compose a coherent self-image through the selection of a distinct personal set of commodities.”
For Basher, the retail display space thus becomes a site to probe and construct personae.
In both his paintings and sculpture, Basher’s work echoes (and amplifies) retail strategy, arranging consumer goods on shelves and other display armatures, and situating these alongside paintings so flawless that they appear, graphic, almost digital. In a gallery setting, these arrangements read with all the trappings of ultra high-end retail. Yet unlike conventional retail display, Basher’s selections of goods upset the expected heirrachies and divisions between products. Instead, the products on display point to a more turgid construction of self. Aspirational objects sit alongside the quotidian, and public and private worlds collapse. Fine booze is paried with hair-loss cream, paintings with drain-opener. Bridle-leather becomes a prop for dirty work-out gear. A dusty sprinkle of illicit powder even coats the shelves. In product, the sketchy outlines of a fraught protagonist emerge. In Devil at the Gates of Heaven, this is a distinctly masculine presence, nominally straight but with bent proclivites, a figure of affluence, with bold appetites, bodily insecurities and dark desires. Yet in the lights and mirrors of the exhibition, the viewer is presented not just with product, but with their own reflection, a suggestion perhaps that this protagonist is in part, within us. In so doing, Basher invokes unspoken drives, the mundane and exclusive, the highbrow and lowbrow, and the public and private impulses that inform us as consuming individuals.
New Zealand born Martin Basher received his BA (2003) and MFA (2008) from Columbia University, New York, where he lives and works.
Basher has exhibited widely internationally. Recent exhibitions include a solo presentation at the Armory Show New York 2017 (with Anat Ebgi Gallery), group exhibitions in London, Los Angeles and New York, art fairs in Los Angeles, Milan, Sydney and Paris, a solo exhibition at the City Gallery of Wellington (2014), commissions for Auckland Art Gallery (2013), The Public Art Fund New York (2011) and Socrates Sculpture Park New York (2008).
Basher has been the recipient of the The La Brea Residency in Los Angeles, the McCahon Residency in Auckland, New Zealand, The AAI residency in New York, and the Susan Goodman Residency in Berlin. His work is featured in numerous public and private collections including The Agnes Gund Collection New York, The Majuda Collection Montreal, The Chartwell Collection Auckland and James Wallace Collection Auckland.
 A rich history of display-based practice exists in Basher’s New York, from the early work of Jeff Koons and Barbara Kruger through to contemporary peers such as Josh Kline and Mika Tajima. Basher’s doctoral thesis included an extended consideration of work by Haim Steinbach, Josephine Meckseper and Carol Bove, three artists deeply concerned with the politics and potential of display.
 Crawford, Margaret, “The World in a Shopping Mall,” in Variations on a Theme Park,: The New American City and the End of Public Space, ed. Michael Sorkin, New York, The Noonday Press, 1996, 15.