Critic’s Pick, Review of Arrangements by Gemma Tipton,, 2011

In Caroline McCarthy’s latest exhibition, “Arrangements,” she continues to explore the ways in which aura can be artistically imbued into found objects. “Port Sunlight,” the artist’s 2002 solo show at Dublin’s Temple Bar Gallery, subtly played with this theme: McCarthy exhibited still lifes in the style of the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century, made not of paint but of colored toilet paper, which she pulped, arranged, and photographed.

Here, McCarthy strikes a balance between the ephemeral/everyday and the valorized-as-art, showing how the transforming hand of the artist raises quotidian mass-produced objects (drinking straws, shelving, soft drink cans) to the privileged status of art object. Shelf Arrangement no.1 of 720 Variations, 2011, comprises a series of inexpensive colored shelves, the sort found in any hardware store. Each shelf is stacked on top of another and supported by hand-cast bronze brackets and screws. Physically, the work echoes Donald Judd’s sculpture sequences, although theoretically it is indebted to Carl Andre. For instance, Andre’s “Equivalent” series, 1966, demonstrated the permutations that could be achieved with 120 firebricks. The “720 variations” in the title of McCarthy’s work illustrates the same point: Composition as much as material creates the art object.

McCarthy further explores the potential for spatial and aesthetic transformation through arrangement and rearrangement in Head/Broken Head, 2011, a gathering of ink and pencil diptychs that show a head, outlined by drawings of drinking straws in the first frame, which are then broken apart in the second to create abstract spatial shapes. Found objects are transformed not simply by selection but by artistic manipulation, and in McCarthy’s hands, the results are not only aesthetically pleasing but intellectually satisfying, too.