In the first room of “First Mark,” Peter Nadin’s first show in New York since 1992, which opened last night at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, there are seven framed canvases splattered with wax and paint and honey, a violent outburst of dull color that looks like it is exploding out of the flat surface. They serve as a nice introduction to the exhibition, but the real highlight is the next room, The Bo’sun’s Chair, a cluster of 57 Hemlock logs—each with different wax sculptures jutting out of the top. They fill the space so tightly, the gallery is transformed into a dense sculptural forest. The pieces vary in size and some are 15 feet high, tall enough that the viewer must stand at a far wall and still crane his neck to see what’s on top. The objects are random bouquets of material, hinting at a shape but never definitively so; like constellations they seem to resemble certain forms by accident.
The next room is a true masterpiece of random beauty, like nature itself (Mr. Nadin says his new work is inspired by his experience moving to Cornwallville, NY, where he began farming and became interested in more ecological inspirations). The piece is called Raft and is composed of a large black square that takes up most of the space. Inside of it are three loosely intertwined, almost associative sculptures: a pile of dirt and rocks with seven (one can’t help but think the number is deliberate) geometrical houses resting atop; a pile of rough-edged pots covered in globs of melted wax, which look like people trying to escape their confines; a raft made of a bundle of sticks in the center, a piece of raw meat tied to the back like a rudder. How many artists’ material lists include wood, twine, wax and also ham?
It is a lovely mix of the accidental with intentional, a mirroring of the real and represented. When a gallery employee came out from a storage closet pushing a mop and broom, he fit in miraculously well with his surroundings, like he might clean up the dirt before moving on to the other room to tidy up all the clutter.