Kristen Morgin’s poignant exhibition at Marc Selwyn Fine Art consists of hundreds of items, including well-used paperbacks, record albums, comic books, puppets, dolls, figurines, building blocks, musical instruments, tin cans, plastic necklaces, pencil stubs, craft projects, coffee cups, bits of cardboard, newspaper photos, scraps of wood, packs of cigarettes and books of matches.
Arranged in tidy clusters that seem to tell tragic stories, the mélange of mementos recalls a modest — or sorry — rummage sale, its forlorn objects too damaged to sell for much more than spare change.
The portrait painted by Morgin’s installation is of a sensitive soul whose love of the little things that once gave her life meaning occupies a large part of her current life, perhaps so much so that she cannot get on with it.
But that impression vanishes when you look closely and notice that nearly everything in the bittersweet exhibition, including the price tags on the paperbacks and the tape mending torn pages, has been made from clay. And hand painted.
Morgin has not simply collected the odds and ends she cherished as a kid growing up in the 1970s, many of which appear to have been passed down by her parents and grandparents. She has handcrafted her homemade inventory, working diligently and meticulously and endlessly to get every color, texture and form to look like something she must have once owned.
The patina of age is palpable. Time’s passage is evident in yellowed pages, creased covers, worn edges, stained surfaces, broken toys and faded fabrics. History’s losses are embodied by the missing limbs of figures, incomplete sets and stray playthings, their partners lost forever.
Made of unfired clay, Morgin’s sculptures are as vulnerable today as the originals on which they are based. Their surfaces are often covered with stickers and scribbles. These marks seem to have been added by siblings or older versions of the person who owned them.
The exhibition’s title, “Messages to My Twenty Year Old Self,” suggests that Morgin’s interior life is a rich one, filled with lively dialogues between her present and past selves, not to mention her parents, relatives and imaginary friends, which appear to number in the dozens.
At a time when monologues make up so much of what passes for public discussion, it is both inspiring and heart-wrenching to bear witness to the multilayered conversations Morgin has with her self. That is where hope enters the picture.
Marc Selwyn Fine Art, 9953 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 277-9953, through July 11. Closed Sundays and Mondays. marcselwynfineart.com