In the historic landmark townhouse housing Tilton Gallery on New York City’s Upper East Side, Kennedy Yanko presents her latest exhibition and first solo show with the gallery, Postcapitalist Desire. The airy home-like setting interacts elegantly with Yanko’s bold metal sculptures. Placed on walls, floors, and above an old fireplace within the two-story house, her works are visceral in their urgency, as a conversation brews just beneath the textured surfaces of assembled objects. Reflecting on the current moment, Yanko opens a pathway to discourse through metalwork, paint skins, and wire, a new element not seen in previous sculptures. In this iteration, we come to an inflection point, begging the pressing questions of our time: how can art and awareness be the first step to bring about radical change? Whether in conversation with the viewer or the spaces the pieces themselves inhabit, there is a deep, lingering exchange of ideas happening in her sculptural works.
As the title indicates, there is a pointed social critique. “Conceptually, this show is imbued with ideas of physical and mental commodification and the economic tides that guide our social contracts, our day-to-day etiquette, and ultimately our inner most desires,” Yanko explains. With smoldering, writhed metal scraps that are welded, shaped, and formed, and luscious, flowing paint skins, Yanko finds beauty, character, and resilience in breathing new life into discarded objects. Her color palette is serene yet bold, sensuous yet abject, and much like the artist herself, the works presented here are dynamic, layered, and filled with stirring complexity.
In Spilling Legacy (2021), vivid magenta and orange juxtapose rigorously and the contrasting texture of reworked metal and soft paint skins provides a welcome respite from monotony. Once trashed junkyard metal pieces become contemplative works of art that question the economies of the systems that govern our lives. Exploring shape, color, and texture with ideas tethered to the rejection of societal norms, Yanko pushes against the status quo, drawing the viewer in for a closer, more intimate glance.
For the artist, the abstract nature of her practice is not only cathartic, but also meditative, as she taps into a well of awareness from which new ideas and modes of thinking emerge. This space of self-discovery is integral to her practice, deeply informing the ideation and formation of new works, especially with the new addition of wires. Threaded wires trace lines throughout sculptures giving shapes fluidity and motion. Making Light (2020) adheres to a lighter tonality, ranging from a soft yellow to deep, rusty mustard, and this play of contrasting and complimentary colors exist in constant conversation. The beauty and ethereal timelessness of Yanko’s work are visible at first sight, but further exploration proves there is more than meets the eye.
In Women Who Run With the Wolves (1992), Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes that “the deepest work is usually the darkest … do not be afraid to investigate the worst. It only guarantees increase of soul power through fresh insights and opportunities for re-visioning one’s life and self anew.” This sentiment rings true in Yanko’s work, as her process begins with deep introspection. Cerebrations on ‘the new normal’ abound as Yanko uses moments of isolation to awaken her consciousness. In her quest to grasp the enormity of social shifts spurred by the worldwide pandemic, far-reaching, overarching questions related to the societal contracts we willingly and unwillingly make become the centerpiece of these newest sculptures.
Yanko, a Saint Louis, Missouri native who resides in Bushwick and is currently participating as a 2021 Artist-in-Residence at the Rubell Museum in Miami, sources the found scrap metal objects from junk yards close to home and in the areas surrounding New York City. From old appliances, desks, and heavy-metal cars, the wide range of objects found in Yanko’s work vary greatly. Pleasure Page (2021), offers a sense of continuous movement, with soft baby blue hues in varying shades. The works are fabricated with an undeniable sense of physicality in the labor they induce, where a feeling of one’s actual labor—be it physical, mental, or emotional—can be further considered introspectively.
Yanko’s latest work implores the viewer to reflect on the current moment with patience, care, and open mindedness. It begs the question: how can awareness and transparency within our society create change, and what challenges can be faced and further understood through art? For Yanko, this work and this incredibly unique moment in our collective consciousness are a vital opportunity to grow, reflect, and reemerge anew.