One way to understand a culture is through its trash. Yuji Agematsu’s sculptures in this show—composed of chewing gum and cigarettes, pigeon feathers and shattered glass, dirty Band-Aids and condoms, among other things—are made from New York’s detritus, which coats the streets like dandruff. Each tiny work—and there are hundreds—has its own discrete character.
Every day since 1985, Agematsu has taken daily walks throughout the boroughs (he moved to Huntington, New York for school in 1980, and ended up studying with the jazz musician Milford Graves only one year later). Each jaunt has been diligently recorded via notebook entries, drawings, and sculptures made from found objects. This exhibition centers on two series of Agematsu’s work: “ziplocs,” 1995, for which he laid out his collections as studious typologies in plastic bags, and “zips,” 2003, for which he built tiny, poignant totems set in cellophane wrappers from cigarette packs. Both series are displayed as monthly calendars—pinned to panels or put on acrylic shelves in gridded configurations—while notations and diagrams of his wanderings are arranged in vitrines or framed nearby.
With their monastic consistency and numbered titles, such as zip: 10.01.03 . . . 10.31.03, 2003, Agematsu’s work makes one think of On Kawara’s date paintings and the impersonal cadence of time. Yet his art is mesmerizing and significant precisely because of its locality and how it enshrines the mysteries of the city. Agematsu has created a moving diorama of human activity and a testament to one individual’s experience of collective memory and time.