Born 1971 in Geneva, Switzerland; lives in New York, New York
I have a sense of history being contained by objects,” Carol Bove recently told Swiss curator Beatrix Ruf, an observation that might well serve as a motto for her nuanced combinatory practice. The particular history with which her work usually has been concerned—namely, that charged, quasi-chronological, sociopolitical moment known as the sixties—is obliquely but convincingly instantiated in her pieces, both the modest shelf-based and the increasingly roomsized displays of carefully chosen found and made objects. Bove’s “settings” draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings. Whether plucked from the archives of culture or couture, from the spheres of entertainment or the academy, the raw materials of Bove’s evocative assemblages pulse with the affinities and contradictions of their age, fine-tuned within the artist’s categorical systems.
Bove’s earliest pieces were typically Minimalist wooden shelves or tables on which she placed simple arrangements of books and images culled from pop culture sources. The array deployed in At Home in the Universe (2001) is representative, capturing the ambitions and ambivalences of the era’s revolutionary movements (social, political, and sexual) with a pair of shelves holding Soul on Ice, Walden, and books by Aldous Huxley and Buckminster Fuller; The Writings of Robert Smithson and Our Bodies Ourselves; and a nostalgically modest spread from a nudist book. Bove’s recent work has grown physically—outboard installation elements now accompany larger presentational environments that incorporate their own constellations of shelves, tables, and plinths—and broadened its focus to evoke even more ambiguous conditions of history and memory. Bove’s 2006 installation at Georg Kargl BOX gallery in Vienna, for example, included a low table set like a diorama-sized sociological sculpture garden of small plexiglass and concrete cubes, peacock feathers, compositionally symmetrical photographs from a fashion magazine, and a lunar atlas; wall drawings made with thread and nails; and a shimmering beaded curtain. The precise allusions of such expanded arrays are perhaps more elusive than in Bove’s previous projects, but the “ambience cues,” a phrase Bove has used to describe the delicate mechanics of her environments, are as evocative as ever. JEFFREY KASTNER
Carol Bove, The Night Sky over New York, October 21, 2007, 9 p.m., 2007. Bronze rods, wire, and expanded metal, 146 x 192 x 96 in. (370.8 x 487.7 x 243.8 cm). Collection of the artist