Liz Magor, Raccoon (2008), polymerized gypsum. Courtesy of the artist and Equinox Gallery.

Liz Magor's coolly painted cast-polymer sculptures of empty trays, dead animals, folded coats, and rotting timbers, adorned with cigarettes, candy wrappers, and assorted bottles of booze, inhabit a lonely and barren space that exists between our urges and their fulfillment. Her empty, exhausted, and expendable objects have not, of course, extinguished our needs, but represent nonessential, easily procured, and quickly consumed stand-ins. The pleasures they wrought, if experienced at all, have long since passed and the sober consequences of their effects can clearly be felt.

Assembled on a series of footed, cast slabs smeared with traces of color are sculptures of dead rodents, cigarette boxes, decaying food, and small pieces of candy, all sandwiched between stacks of tarnished metal trays. There is a pale, severed deer head; a colorless raccoon carcass on a plate of breath mints; a shriveled mouse in a heavy ashtray; and half-a-dozen leather and woven jackets folded into squares. Magor's "delivery devices"—whiskey bottles, cigarettes, a Toblerone bar—are frequently inserted into and partially concealed in the cast forms of the collapsed outerwear garments, suggesting their injection or infusion into hollow, depleted vessels. Beneath them on the floor are cast segments of a downed, decomposing tree oozing static foam from either cut end. All the objects in the gallery possess the cold dampness of death.

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It is not hard to see in these works a critique of society, with its emphasis on consumption and denial, but Magor's sculpture is about something more specific. Her pieces address the commercial and critical demands of the contemporary art world, as well as our historic and deep-seated belief in the transformative power of the art object itself. The public's insatiable hunger for novelty, excitement, and content (both within the art world and outside it) is frequently at odds with the artist's need to satisfy her own creative urges and to produce meaningful works of art.

Magor's series of works at the Henry engages this dilemma brilliantly by deromanticizing the artistic process. The life force of her sculptures has been depleted and replaced by an unholy trio of tobacco, alcohol, and sugar, but the act of making is as painstaking as in traditional, romanticized castings, in which sculptures are seen to take on a life of their own. Magor's practice is more like inverse taxidermy. recommended