Art Omi presents $ELL YOUR $ELF, the first New York institutional solo exhibition of visionary artist Pippa Garner (American, b. 1942), on view from June 24 to October 29, 2023. For more than five decades, Garner has embedded her work in the world, often realizing projects outside the confines of galleries, museums, or the boundaries of what has been strictly defined as art. Her works take the form of mail-order catalogs, classified ads, garments, cars, and performances on the streets or on television. Garner offers deviant solutions for tackling everyday problems in post-Fordist America. Directly addressing the anxiety, alienation, and paranoia that courses through the office and home, Garner proposes devices to deflect, subvert, or retool the mounting pressures of productivity and visibility today.
$ELL YOUR $ELF underscores Garner’s interest in how self is commodified and instrumentalized in today’s world. Camouflaging her work in the shiny optimism of a sales pitch, Garner expresses pessimism, ambivalence, and exhaustion. Knowing how the language of liberation is co-opted by commercial forces, Garner offers a rejoinder, cloaking herself within the machinery of the apparatus in an attempt to trip its circuit. Garner solicits the viewer to embrace pleasure, kink, and the perversion of mass-produced products as tools for altering working conditions and conceptualizations of self.
Originally trained as a car designer, Garner was kicked out of the ArtCenter College of Design’s transportation design program in 1969 for presenting a car morphing into a human body. Undeterred by her expulsion, Garner conceived of her first major car work in 1973, Backwards Car, a 1959 Chevy with its exterior rotated 180 degrees so it appeared to face the wrong way as it drove. In a gesture at once daredevil stunt and conceptual probe, Garner scaled San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in the work. She was finessing an important principle: how to follow the letter of the law while utterly defying it in spirit. Garner was not alone: her friends and collaborators during this period – including artists Ed Ruscha, Chris Burden, and the collective Ant Farm – used the automobile to interrogate the language of American commerce, machismo, and the slippery boundaries separating art and life.
In the mid-eighties, Garner began gender-hacking with hormones – a process that she considers a conceptual artwork – marking an extension of her practice from twenty years of altering cars, garments, and consumer products to using her own body as raw material. Much of her work has been in infiltrating mass media, from classified ads to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In the eighties, she released several artist books designed to impersonate mail order catalogs, including her most famous, the Better Living Catalog (1982). From the early aughts to the present, as Garner’s vision has waned, she has maintained a practice of producing a t-shirt a day, using iron-on letters to tinker with popular phrases in ways that reclaim their lusty potential and thumb her nose at assimilationist narratives.
The exhibition premieres Haulin’ Ass! (2023) Garner’s newest custom car unveiled on the fiftieth anniversary of her first major car work, Backwards Car (1973-1974). Commissioned by Art Omi, Haulin’ Ass! is a 2003 red Ford Ranger removed from its chassis, rotated, and welded back together so it appears to face the wrong way as it drives. Fully functional and replete with super-sized truck nuts, it will make appearances in the Hudson Valley and New York City this summer and fall.