A Young Sculptor Plunges Into The Uncertainty Of Quarter-Life

Ryan Johnson shows new work in New York this month, with figural pieces full of motion and unease.

Walk through the white doors of the Suzanne Geiss Company this month, and you’ll find a foyer empty in the familiar way SoHo galleries tend to be. But pass over the threshold and into the main space, and you’ll find it difficult to turn a corner without fear of knocking into one of the unwieldy sculptures of Ryan Johnson, the Karachi-born, Brooklyn-based sculptor whose work is on view at Geiss until December.


The contrast between empty and crowded seems to be intentional–if not, it’s a happy accident. Johnson’s show, entitled Self Storage, meditates on the messiness of life in transition, whether between independence and family or childhood and adulthood. The sculptures are large, some well above 13 feet tall, and more figurative than Johnson’s past work. The Perfectionist shows a Giacometti-esque figure attempting to balance a pyramid of oranges on his or her skull while strapped with heavy stone-like “baggage.” In Bicycle, two abstracted figures squeeze onto a bike with six wheels, mimicking motion.

Maybe it’s because the work resonated with me, an uncertain twentysomething, or maybe it was nerves about bumping into the pieces’ spindly armatures, but I got a palpable sense of disquiet from Self Storage–and it wasn’t unpleasant. “I think my new work has a feeling of unease, restlessness, and transition which I have been noticing within myself and in my circle of friends lately,” Johnson tells Co.Design. “There is an ambient pressure that comes with mid-30s adulthood that is difficult to articulate.”

All of the work is beautifully crafted. Rocking Horse is a wilder version of its namesake, painted a watery blue, with prickling sharp edges. Speaking to Art Business News, he calls the piece “a rocking horse for grown-ups, one you may be apprehensive about riding.” The piece mimes motion brilliantly, with spokes that melt into air as though the horse is moving too fast for human eyes. “If I am constructing a figure in the act of walking, I may build and add on all the legs that depict the action,” Johnson explains. “The end result may look like an enormous centipede, but there is a simple logic that led it to that form.”

We last wrote about Johnson under very different circumstances. In 2010, a UPS campaign by Ogilvy allegedly ripped off one of his sculptures, from 2007, showing a human form in a blur of elongated pixels. “There is nothing new on that front,” Johnson says, “but it is beyond obvious that they were looking at my piece Pedestrian, and I am very thankful that it was noticed and reported on.” His new work has a maturity to it, and a craft, that does an excellent job articulating how he’s grown as an artist since the controversy. And hopefully, we won’t be seeing any of the works in Self Storage on billboards over the next few months.

Check out Self Storage at Suzanne Geiss Company until December 15th.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.