October 2022

There’s a glut in Benjamin Cohen’s new exhibition, a surplus, an abundance. A looped four-second video shows 2.8 million gallons of water flowing over Niagara Falls. In the corner, there’s a huge pile of thousands of mint-green polystyrene packing chips. An abandoned loaf of bread as you walk in is preserved in resin, dozens of souvenir T-shirts are packed as flat and small as they’ll go.

But this abundance feels temporary, or just slightly off. All that water flowing over the falls seems somehow inconsequential, that bread is inedible and those packing chips are 94 percent air.

The gallery assures visitors that the packing chips will be recycled. Cohen tried to use eco-friendly sugar-based alternatives, but it led to a rat infestation. A suitably, grimly surreal punchline to the artist’s ideas.

Cohen’s work is full of playful, punny, clashing narratives, empty promises and visual anticlimaxes. There’s a temptation to read it all as a comment on consumerism, on the greed of Western overconsumption in the face of increasing global poverty, world hunger and environmental collapse. And that’s probably a pretty valid interpretation. But it’s also just about how materials and substances can tell or hide stories, how their purpose can be so easily undermined.

It might be full of letdowns and disappointments, but at least the rats got a decent dinner.