Fall River, Massachusetts, is sandwiched between Rhode Island and Cape Cod in the southeast corner of Massachusetts. It was a leading textile center in the 19th century, starting on a financial decline during the Great Depression. During the highway building boom of the 1960's I-95 was constructed through the heart of the city, destroying many of its landmarks, dividing the city in half, and separating its neighborhoods. In 2021 Fall River was ranked among Massachusetts's most dangerous cities and was also the hometown of the infamous Lizzie Borden. Against this backdrop, Harry Gould Harvey IV creates his art, intertwining the history of Fall River with his life growing up and living there.
Like Fall River itself, Harvey bears the scars of the industrial era. He was exposed to lead as a child and again while working with his father, pouring lead at mansions in nearby Newport, Rhode Island. The lead exposure "disrupted his neuro-immunological functioning and altered his perception of and interactions with the world." It also furnished the show's title: Sick Metal, a meticulously organized, hung, and curated exhibition at P.P.O.W. gallery in Tribeca.
The bulk of the objects in the show are drawings, twenty-seven charcoal, and colored pencil drawings that occasionally incorporate gouache and Xeroxes. Harvey is a prolific artist. All of the drawings were produced during 2022 and 2023. The drawings are framed with Harvey's handcrafted wooden frames that are integral to the artwork. Harvey only considers the artwork complete when the drawings are framed. Harvey forages wood from derelict buildings and a local sawmill primarily using American walnut. The design of the frame enhances the content of the drawings. The frames claim heritage with "Tramp Art" folk art wooden frames from the late 19th century through the Depression. Tramp Art similarly used found wood (primarily cigar boxes) to create frames and boxes.
Harvey's framed drawings become shrine-like. He canonizes his own saints as in the drawing The Phantasmagoric Ladder ( Status Qou), 2023. The mixed media piece includes a photo of "Saint Kennedy," a 19th-century laborer who died on a ladder while hooking up Fall River to the electrical grid. Ladders are a recurring theme throughout the show. A video installation towards the back of the gallery shows Harvey finding a wooden ladder at the side of the road and later setting the ladder adrift in a lake. The ladder is in the exhibition as part of an installation in the window of P.P.O.W. The ladder leans against the wall pointing towards Fall River in proximity to a mixed-media installation constructed primarily of red wax, one of the most intriguing pieces in the exhibition. The installation is constructed with wood and covered with red wax. It includes small metal cast figures referencing Harvey's lead poisoning and alluding to the lost wax casting technique used to produce the small bronze pieces found throughout the show. On a shelf sits two carved apples that appear to have electrodes stuck through them; a wire connects one apple with a bite out of it to a wax shape formed by the hollow of a gripping hand as if the electricity from the apple is animating the hand. Apple's pierced with copper and steel rods will create a small amount of electricity though potatoes work better. The installation is one part Barbie Dreamhouse, one part Frankenstein laboratory, and one part Giacometti, The Palace at 4 AM but thoroughly Harry Gould Harvey IV. A wood banner hangs over the installation with red wax letters proclaiming "Get Over Yourself."
The exhibition's two most minimalist and understated pieces are two metal fire doors salvaged from an industrial building in Holyoke, another economically struggling post-industrial Massachusetts city. The enigmatic pieces consist solely of the fire doors supported by three white bronze cast osprey talons titled Underwriters Laboratories Vertical Shaft 1 and 2. In Harvey's work, fire and smoke are recurring themes, often mixed with religious imagery, such as Loaves in the Supersubstantial Oven and Presupposition Of Saint Anne, both depicting buildings on fire, that may reference the burning of the historic Notre Dame church in Fall River in 1982. The fire was one of the most devastating the city had experienced, burning the church and twenty-seven homes across five blocks, permanently scarring the neighborhood. Several pieces in the show address the topic of religion, specifically Buddhism and Catholicism; a drawing titled, What Did Tha Yung Buddha Say To His Mutha*Ma Is As SelflesS aS I aM! ( Faith Super-Apostle) and a small bronze relief sculpture titled If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him After Lin Chi address Buddhist themes.
Fall River has a substantial Portuguese-Catholic population. In Oh No Ⓐ Lily!, a typewriter-written poem encased in a wooden reliquary-type box that swings open, Harvey refers to the Virgin Mary, including the opening line of the Hail Mary in Latin above that written backward spells the phrase "Gabriel the virgin rises from heR" the last line reads "Above a pot of lilies" Lilies being an attribute of Mary. The misspellings are part of the poem. Another poem similarly encased in a wood box, is about Harvey's relationship with lead referencing the title of the show Sick Metal and the alchemical relationship of lead and gold. Two cruciform drawings are placed on either side of a gallery favorite, Magneto Cloud Buster Broken Tub Thumper, a sound installation consisting of decorative vintage stereo speakers brought to the U.S. by military veterans surmounted by a red wax lion, the type you see guarding the edges of suburban driveways. Harvey recorded various sounds from around Fall River, which play through the speakers when you press a doorbell near the installation.
Rarely have an artist, their art, and their environment been so intertwined in American Art. In this exhibition, the art, the artist, and his environment cannot be separated.
Sick Metal continues at P.P.O.W. Gallery through August 4th. The gallery is operating on summer hours: Monday - Friday, 10 AM - 6 PM. WM