Sydney Shen: Onion Master
April 30 – September 1 2019
Sydney Shen’s sculptures and installations evoke a sense of abject dread. Informed by a range of historical and contemporary sources—including Peking opera, supernatural horror fiction, and the darkest recesses of the web—Shen frankensteins organic and synthetic materials such as Chinese and Western medicinal aromatics, 3-D-printed plastic, and biological specimens to produce uncanny environments.
In 2019, the New Museum presented Shen’s “Onion Master”, in the window of the New Museum’s 231 Bowery Building. This installation reimagined an arcade claw machine with a bizarre prize: artificial onions. Scattered alongside the onions, solar-powered toys—which the artist saw as captive performers—were encased within clear acrylic balls. Shen lined the window with lyrical excerpts from a song by English Renaissance musician John Dowland, whose compositions often ruminate on melancholy. Combining the spirit of an amusement park with morbid cues from funeral parlors, the installation highlighted the macabre within carnivalesque and Gothic imagery. The claw machine, also known as a skill crane, was at once enticing and deceptively difficult, designed to give the false impression that a player will be able to claim the prize. Shen’s design amplified this frustration, offering a game with no way to play and no prize to collect, presenting a Sisyphean task—in the end, no one wins.
“Onion Master” was the fourth and last in a series of window installations in the New Museum’s 231 Bowery window, which temporarily revived the Window Series, originally mounted in 1979, that ran through the 1980s and ‘90s. In conjunction with her window installation, Shen produced a limited edition cap featuring the Onion Master through her apparel and jewelry line Gesualda in collaboration with the New Museum. The project was curated by Francesca Altamura, Curatorial Assistant.