Text: Alec Coiro
All Images Courtesy of Situations and Fierman Galleries
Under the long, obnoxious shadow that 250 South Street — the new 5,000 million story condo going up next to the Manhattan Bridge — casts on Henry street, I stopped by Situations, the brilliantly scrappy storefront gallery for a look at the Scott Covert show. Just as the gallery lies in the shadow of final-phase gentrification, Covert deals with that most permanent of shadows: death.
To be more specific, it deals with our memorials to the dead. Covert travels the country collecting grave rubbings on canvas. Sometimes one rubbing per canvas; sometimes so many that their frenzied density makes them almost impenetrable to the reader.
While Covert’s rubbings are by their nature a form of reproduction more than the result of an original brush stroke, I still feel the presence of his hand in a remarkable way, much more so than I usually do with more traditional painters. The canvases retain the trace of his cross-country questing from graveyard to graveyard to an extent that gives them a very strong aura, which feels very tangible. Despite the fact that takes celebrities both great and niche as his subject matter, the work feels extraordinarily personal; so much so that I was momentarily discombobulated by the transactional nature of the art world, wondering why he would part with these paintings he’d labored so hard and traveled so long to create.
The compelling thing about seeing the work collected together is that you see Covert’s varying approaches to his work. One painting will group its deceased in a straightforward way — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, say — teasing you that Covert’s intentions can be easily understood before the next painting’s juxtaposition throws you for a complete loop.
It’s worth adding that The Dead Supreme is in a sense two shows. Situations and Fierman are putting the show up in conjunction with each other. Both galleries are storefronts in the same building and they were both founded at roughly the same time, and the show is technically a single show — I took a home a sheet of paper with both galleries names on it — but of course the gallerists have created a totally unique experience in their respective spaces. Fierman’s presentation struck me as more stark and macabre. The works at Situations, on the other hand, are more colorful and vivacious.
While I wrote above that the subject matter is death, Situations Gallerist Jackie Klempay tells me that Covert considers the work to be more about life than otherwise. And, indeed, it’s hard to see his tribute to the women of Warhol’s factory scene flecked out with sparkles as in any way goth. And Covert himself is very much alive. If the beats implied that conformity was death and being “on the road” was life, then Covert, living out of a van, spanning the country in search of the next gravesite, is the most alive of all of us.