ASHES/ASHES is pleased to present Michael Assiff’s solo exhibition Volunteer Flowers. The exhibition will be on view September 10—October 24, 2021 with an opening on Friday, September 10th from 4–8pm. Gallery hours are Wednesday—Sunday, 12–6pm.
Each of the five paintings in the exhibition is composed of hundreds of individually sculpted life-size weeds. In an assembly line process, Assiff fashions stem, leaf, petal, and flower by extruding tinted methacrylic plastic through a syringe fitted with customized dies before compositing the parts together into whole plants. The finished plants are then arranged onto canvas into a literal “color field.”
The works in this exhibition are deeply influenced by Assiff’s attunement to the wild plants that grow between the concrete which he passes daily on his walks from home to studio. Generally considered weeds, Assiff prefers the gardening term “volunteers” for these plants that colonize the available urban space. He observes and documents these plants throughout their life cycles, learning their names, researching their uses, and experiencing each plant through touch, smell, and taste. Assiff channels this multi-sensory research into his translations of these plants into paint, sculpting and composing their painted forms by a logic informed equally by personal aesthetic, botanical study and interior design trends.
Last year, Assiff became enchanted with the overgrowth of All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. He was overwhelmed by the exuberant growth that was possible when grass was not mowed and wild plants were permitted to flourish free from herbicides. Upon investigation, Assiff uncovered that this flourishing was permitted due to the cemetery’s Board of Directors’ embezzlement and their indifference towards maintaining the grounds. The maintenance crew had been reduced from 60 employees to 9, with hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for operations misappropriated. Meanwhile, the cemetery has been sued by the Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, and its assets have been frozen. To make the paintings in Volunteer Flowers, Assiff has re-created the plants from All Faiths Cemetery with a devotion that is unconventional to a cemetery’s intended function, but which honors the site with a reverence that is befitting nonetheless.
With their 1:1 scale and uniform color, Assiff places these works in relation to the art historical lineage of the monochrome, a genre that emphasizes the materiality of the painted object and the relationship of the viewer’s body to the painting. The apocalyptic discourse surrounding the monochrome—the end of painting—fits our current moment’s tone of climate change angst—the end of life as we know it on planet earth. Like the never-ending triumph of painting in art history, weeds will dominate Earth in the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere of the future. Do Assiff’s paintings function without a viewer? The vibrating energy of these self-contained worlds suggests that even in this human-made nature, life goes on without us in the room.
–Sterling Francis Wells
Michael Assiff (b. 1983; St. Petersburg, Florida) lives and works in Queens, New York. Assiff has had solo exhibitions at: Valentin (Paris, France); Galería Mascota (Mexico City, Mexico); First Continent (Baltimore, MD); Shoot the Lobster (New York, NY); Good Weather (North Little Rock, AK). His work has been included in group exhibitions at: ASHES/ASHES (New York, NY); Matthew Brown Gallery (Los Angeles, CA); Jack Hanley Gallery (New York, NY); Martos Gallery (New York, NY); Galerie Balice Hertling (Paris, France).