Barry McGee is an artist who takes uncertainty and unpredictability as his guiding principles. Every exhibition is different. He arranges paintings, drawings, sculptures, found objects, and works by other artists into freely improvised installations that roam across the walls, floors, and ceilings of an exhibition space. In the past, his installations have featured everything from robotic graffiti writers to entire shipping containers and automobiles.

For his new show at Cheim & Read, McGee has assembled hundreds of artworks and objects into an installation that is at once boisterous and fluid. The gallery’s compact “dome room,” facing the entrance foyer, is outfitted with shelves and pedestals holding dozens of painted ceramics, including a totem-like stack of vessels covered in geometric patterns. Paintings on scrap wood, cardboard, and canvas hang on the walls or sit on the floor, while a spray-painted banner, reading “Do Your Part for the Resistance,” and an enormous black-and-white photograph dominate the upper portions of the space.

The walls of the front section of the main gallery are covered with paintings featuring optical patterns, geometric shapes, and stylized heads, along with the occasional acronym — “THR” (“The Human Race” or “The Harsh Reality”) and “DFW” (“Down for Whatever”). One corner of the space is occupied by a small, self-enclosed room (designated the “L. Fong Healing Arts Center,” an allusion to one of McGee’s pseudonyms), which the artist built to house a floor-to-ceiling installation of artworks and videos by his friends and acquaintances. Nearby, three vitrines are filled with magazines, chapbooks, drawings, and hand-painted bottles and artifacts by the artist and others.

The rear gallery of the main space is dominated by more than eighty wooden surf boards stacked against the east wall until they touch the ceiling, where they seem to join with the skylight and the apartment tower looming above. The opposite wall bellies outward as if struck by an earthquake. Here McGee has installed a tight-fitting cluster of black-framed drawings and watercolors that becomes its own overall shape, contrasting with a similarly tight cluster of unframed paintings hanging on the wall to the right. Recurring motifs ricochet around the entire gallery space, tying together the disparate forms and materials into a buzzing, dynamic whole.

Barry McGee
Cheim & Read, January 4 - February 17