Justin Beal’s first solo show clowns and confounds like a Tom Stoppard play or a Thomas Pynchon novel: brainy, circuitous, witty read clever, down-the-rabbit-hole disorienting and, ultimately, wondrous.
His work tracks innocent if not anachronistic as lazy riffs on Bauhaus formalism (transparency, unadorned structure, virtuous simplicity) but whose underlying material esthetic makes us consider more sinister plots afoot. The material – glass, aluminum, mirror, Plexiglas – and the installations – shelves, folding walls, the kind of work that bee-lines from art school straight into mass production – suggests the mantra of the holy trinity of Target, IKEA, and Pottery Barn: demand creates supply.
But Beal is too canny for such unmediated charades. When used as a verb, his show’s title “Melamine Everything” mutters a witty, passive imperative command; as a noun it exhorts a call to arms against the lassitude of glib first impressions. In 2007 no less a consumerist poobah than Oprah apotheosized the substance’s iteration as festive holiday dishware. And yet, as an ingredient in pet food imported from China, current research shows that it caused the deaths of cats and dogs.