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Objects Receive Tender Care in Nico B. Young’s ‘Flashlights’

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Nine flashlights of varying age turned on and arranged on a wooden shelf, extension cord extending from lower right corner
Nico B. Young, detail of 'Walter's Flashlights (1–3),' 2023. (Courtesy the artist and In Concert)

One of the most curious things about In Concert, the gallery run by Gabriel Garza and Theadora Walsh, is that it bounces between two spaces in the same building — one L-shaped, the other squarish — to fit the needs of any given show. For Flashlights, a solo show of work by Los Angeles artist Nico B. Young, In Concert occupies the latter, a cozy setting for the tenderly assembled work on view. Each piece in Flashlights shows evidence of a caring, idiosyncratic touch — if not from Young himself, then from previous users and owners: a flashlight collector named Walter; stereoscopic enthusiasts Susan Pinksy and David Starkman; or the artist’s late father, Jeff Young, a keyboardist, singer and songwriter.

It’s clear Young is also a collector of interesting stuff. The most baffling object in the show is an antique stereo viewer Young found at an estate sale. Built by George Mann (a former vaudeville dancer-turned-inventor), the boxy device sprouts a sign that proclaims “Broad Views of Force Limited Magnetic Particle,” a phrase I still cannot parse. Inside, a rotating and backlit slide display shows viewers images of nude women posing with advertising copy and car parts, the scenes made eerily three-dimensional by the power of stereoscopy.

Two round-top boxes on a white pedestal, one in dark wood with a metal sign, the other light wood with a viewfinder and button visible
Nico B. Young, ‘Stereo-Viewer,’ 2023. (Courtesy the artist and In Concert)

In the process of fixing up and researching Mann’s stereo viewer, Young discovered the website 3-DLegends.com, the repository of Susan Pinksy and David Starkman’s extensive knowledge of stereoscopic history (with an entire section on Mann and his images). According to their research, Mann would rent out his viewers to restaurants, offices and other businesses to offer a diversion to people in waiting rooms.

And so Young built a second object in homage to the first: a bare wooden viewer with its own rotating image display, this time photographs of Pinsky and Starkman posing with their collection of stereo viewers, mirroring (more chastely) the contents of Mann’s.

In Young’s process of refurbishment and repair, we get a sense of the respect he has for the things people collect, as well as the artist’s own curiosity. How does this device work? Can it be made operational again? For Walter’s Flashlights (1–3), three displays of flashlights turn on via a single switch below each box-like shelf; Young has rewired them into singular “bouquets” with various types represented.

Dark room with three splashes of light against wall from upward-pointed flashlights
Nico B. Young, ‘Walter’s Flashlights (1–3),’ 2023. (Courtesy the artist and In Concert)

There’s something of the Bernd and Hilla Becher impulse to this piece, a need to organize by typology that may initially prove invisible to the viewer. But the more I looked, the more I remembered the desire to sort my own childhood collections (rocks, stickers, marbles). With the gallery lights off, the piece conjured memories of holding a flashlight in dark woods, of clandestine reading sessions under the covers.

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Found tabletops ring the gallery’s walls, an array of shaped wood, metal and laminate surfaces Young has procured from the streets of Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Again, I was pleasantly reminded of an art-historical precedent: Imi Knoebel’s Raum 19, an installation of wooden panels, stretcher bars and geometric forms that might be the raw surfaces of future paintings and sculptures. Instead, they remain unadorned, stacked and arranged to fit their place of display (currently Dia Beacon).

But where Knoebel’s surfaces speak of their potential, Young’s tabletops carry the history of their past functionality. This one looks like a drafting table, another like it came from a high school science lab. And while there are some signs of use, these are also fairly well-maintained objects, empty of the graffiti or carved-in names one might expect from discarded furniture.

Wooden dresser with open shelves and tape player on top in room with brown tiled floor and tabletops hanging on white walls
Nico B. Young, ‘Leslie’ 2023; and ‘Found Tabletops,’ 2020–2021. (Courtesy the artist and In Concert)

The show’s final element returns to the third dimension, this time with a temporal element. Inside a small dresser used by Young’s father, the artist found a demo tape from the 1980s, a recording of Jeff Young singing various snippets of songs in different musical styles. Repurposing that dresser as a container, Young created Leslie, which plays the tape through a sculpted version of his father’s Leslie revolving organ amplifier, a noisy and disorienting mechanism that throws the singer’s voice to various points in the room.

It’s a poignant monument, and a centerpiece of the show. Like Stereo-Viewer and Walter’s Flashlights, Leslie requires a bit of button-pressing and demonstration to become fully activated — Young passing along his process to all who experience the works. This piece, and Flashlights as a whole, tucked into the current setting that is In Concert, serve as reminders that no thing, living or inanimate, can last forever, but through careful attention, the memories and feelings they evoke can find new homes.

Flashlights’ is on view at In Concert (3320 18th St., San Francisco) Thursdays and Saturdays 2–5 p.m. and by appointment through Aug. 6, 2023.

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