Sydney Shen: Onion Master


“Sydney Shen: Onion Master” reimagines an arcade claw machine with a bizarre prize: artificial onions.

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“Sydney Shen: Onion Master,” 2019. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Charles Benton

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Sydney Shen (b. 1989, Woodbridge, NJ) creates sculptures and installations that 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.

“Onion Master” reimagines an arcade claw machine with a bizarre prize: artificial onions. The lowly vegetable emits tear-inducing gas when sliced, to tragicomic effect. Scattered alongside the onions, solar-powered toys—which the artist sees as captive performers—are encased within clear acrylic balls. Shen has 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 highlights the macabre within carnivalesque and Gothic imagery. The claw machine, also known as a skill crane, is at once enticing and deceptively simple; it is designed to give the false impression that a player may be able to claim the prize. Shen’s version amplifies this frustration by presenting a game with no way to play and no prize to collect. “Onion Master” performs its Sisyphean task—in the end, no one wins.

“Sydney Shen: Onion Master” joins a new series of window installations that relaunches a program the New Museum originally mounted in the 1980s.

This project is curated by Francesca Altamura, Curatorial Assistant.

Sydney Shen (b. 1989, Woodbridge, NJ) lives and works in New York. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include “Poor Thing” with Kyung Me at Hotel Art Pavilion, Brooklyn (2018); “Four Thieves Vinegar” at Springsteen, Baltimore (2017); “What’s Worse Than The Void Is Matter” at Motel, Brooklyn (2017); and “Bone Apple Tea” at Holy Motors Project, Hong Kong (2016). In May 2019 she will present her first international solo exhibition at Sophie Tappeiner in Vienna. Group exhibitions include Deitch Projects, New York; Aike-Dellarco, Shanghai; Weekends, London; Fused Space, San Francisco; Et Al, San Francisco; and American Medium, Brooklyn. Shen is also the founder of Gesualda, a handmade fine jewelry and apparel company.

The artist would like to thank Willie Gambucci for his mechanical design and fabrication.

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This project is made possible with support provided by the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.

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