Virginia Overton and the Beauty of Broken Businesses

For her exhibition at Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich, the artist reassembled disused advertising signs into abstract sculptures

Brooklyn-based artist Virginia Overton’s first exhibition at Galerie Francesca Pia, ‘Fresh Hot Pizza’, perfectly encapsulates what she described, in a 2013 interview with Mousse magazine, as the ‘process of trial and error’ through which she creates her works in response to a space.

In the first room, wooden boards neatly stacked against the wall nod to Overton’s last exhibition in Switzerland at Kunsthalle Bern. There, Untitled (slant) (2013) was an architectural intervention that took up an entire room; here, it has a more modest appearance. By changing the configuration and presentation of this piece, Overton indicates that objects – including her own artworks – can always be modified.

The following rooms feature a series of painted aluminium sculptures, created using disused metal signs sourced from demolished office buildings, which underscore this perspective. Overton dismantled the advertising signs and reassembled them into what she refers to as ‘cut-ups’. Despite the sculptures’ abstract forms, it is hard to avoid seeking out the recognizable elements hinted at by their titles: the serpentine red line of Untitled (snake) (2019), for instance, or the arcs of Untitled (watermelon) (2019), which resembles a character from an unfamiliar script.

Virginia Overton, ‘Fresh Hot Pizza’, installation view, 2019, Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Annik Wetter

Strikingly harmonious, the aluminium sculptures look as though they have never had any other shape – an impression reinforced by signs of ageing: peeling and blistering paint, scratches and dents. Seemingly from another era, these works echo the visual aesthetic of the Mad Max films (1979–2015), which feature repurposed industrial materials.

While Overton’s sculptures might be seen to speak to the destructive impact of large-scale corporations, in fact these works present an engagement with the materials and aesthetics that shape our everyday lives. We are used to seeing such signage from a distance of 50 metres above street level, where their slogans address the consumer: ‘America runs on Dunkin’’, ‘I’m lovin’ it’, ‘Fresh Hot Pizza’ – promises made by companies that want you to believe their hype. Presented here in the gallery at eye level, however, although the physical material of the signs remains the same, the illusion fades and the promises vanish.

Virginia Overton, Untitled, 2019, painted aluminium, 186 × 133 × 52 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Annik Wetter

In the interview mentioned above, the curator Fabrice Stroun remarked that ‘a piece of wood looked at in a space consecrated for art is no longer the same piece of wood found on the side of the road.’ Overton replied, ‘Actually, I think they are the same thing.’ The works in ‘Fresh Hot Pizza’ exemplify Overton’s nuanced understanding and handling of the specific connotations of materials. While she entirely reshapes the advertising signs and wholly redefines their purpose, their original significance does not change. The salvaged aluminium – with all its traces of abrasion – continues to represent the world of global brands and international corporations. Ultimately, these are the same metal plates that were once installed on a North American tower block.

Overton is less interested in specific objects than in their materiality, providing a stage upon which to speak of their provenance and original purpose. By bringing into the white cube cedar planks found lying on the street or by bending old and useless advertising signs into abstract sculptures, Overton reveals the stories of materials that would otherwise remain untold.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Virginia Overton ‘Fresh Hot Pizza’ is on view at Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich, from 14 December until 14 February 2020.

Main Image: Virginia Overton, Untitled (monolith)2019, painted aluminium, 145 × 570 × 15 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Annik Wetter

Fabian Schöneich is a curator and writer based in Berlin, Germany.

Issue 210

First published in Issue 210

April 2020

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