Under the Bonsai Tree, Chris Bogia’s first solo exhibition, is on view at Mrs. Gallery in Maspeth, NY, following the gallery’s presentation of his work at NADA Miami 2018. Bogia’s newest body of work focuses on the bonsai as a projection of an alternative, calmer reality, one crafted through meticulous exertion and care. 

For this exhibition, the gallery’s windows are partially veiled by full-width linen curtain panels cut with portholes, Circle Curtains, which add to a sense of domestic privacy to the show. The panels shield a room full of contradictions. Several small bonsai-shaped sculptures line the walls, while the center is dominated by a six-foot by nine-foot tree sculpture, Big Bonsai, it's very size anathema to the genre. Also anathema; the fixed nature of these wooden bonsai, which have all the proportional delights of their inspiration. They’re perfect, unchanging, and removed from the grueling constant exercise that bonsai normally entail. The artist has done all the work; these sculptures stand as small monuments to perfection, awaiting our enjoyment.

Chris Bogia Under the Bonsai Tree Mrs. Installation View 001

The violence of perfection is hinted at by Big Bonsai, however. Remove your eyes from the splendor of the giant tree and espy the severed hand to the side. Such physical perfection comes at great cost, it seems. Is there any worse castration for a sculptor than the loss of such a limb? The beauty of these bonsai becomes charged with pain. Bonsai are meticulously sculpted into idealized versions of natural forms; in Bogia’s hands, they become metaphors for the body, which can likewise be molded though, unlike these particular bonsai, never made static. 

Under the Bonsai Tree also references the home, and the tension that exists in domestic spaces. Bogia’s bonsai are treated with surface finishes ranging from lacquer to grass-cloth wallpaper, materials which accentuate the interior quality of these works. They are a veneer of visual delight, distracting us from what chaos surely exists elsewhere. To keep a bonsai is a frenetic balancing act, and a potentially all-encompassing one. Mr. Fussy, a large yarn panel featuring a modified version of the iconic Roger Hargreaves children’s book character, is the keeper of the bonsai, and a suggestive surrogate for the artist. This Mr. Fussy is made adult both in size and by the prominent addition of male genitalia. Known for fastidiously combing the blades of grass on his lawn, his new adult status elevates this tic to a more complex disorder; his endowment suggests there are more enjoyable uses of his time. Judgements as to what’s better, the pursuit of physical ideals or the pursuit of pleasure, remains in the realm of the individual. Perhaps in these works they are one and the same.

Chris Bogia Under the Bonsai Tree Mrs. Installation View 002 

Chris Bogia’s solo show Under the Bonsai Tree is on view at Mrs. Gallery in NYC through November 2nd, 2019.

Text by Lilly Lampe. Images courtesy of Mrs. Gallery.