Last week was one of the very first previews I’ve attended since the start of the pandemic, and it was none other than Cj Hendry’s Blonde pop-up at Brookfield Plaza. Hendry transformed one of Brookfield’s rather sterile storefront into an all pink chocolate shop and retro barbershop adorned with chocolate bars by Tony’s Chocolonely, pink swivel chairs, Ettore Sottsass style Ultrafragola wavy mirrors, and Hendry’s hyper-realistic drawings of wigs in different colors. And of course, let’s not forget the wildly wacky wigs that were passed out to the attendees which amped up the fun, added an air of mystery, and of course, the Instagrammable appeal.
For a person who was dubbed by the New York Times as an Instagram artist, I still have so many questions: who is the real Cj Hendry? And was she there under the guise of a wig? Is this show pointing to the human need to camouflage and go under the radar? With a lengthy line that kept growing (although Hendry’s team passed out a delicious pink drink which made the time past faster), it was hard to resist taking a quick seat in one of the retro swivel chairs before exiting. I wish I had been able to spend more time roaming around with my purple ombre wig taking in her drawings.
I’ve been familiar with Hendry’s work for some time, and back in 2019, I wrote an article about if it was possible for an artist to survive in the all-time competitive art world without representation. At the time, I was skeptical to Hendry’s approach since she is a one-stop-shop; her studio handles fabrication, exhibition production, PR, and sales with the help of freelancers and studio staff. It goes without saying that’s a lot to handle and execute well while still planning for future immersive exhibitions, but Hendry seems to have it down pat and she definitely hasn’t lost her touch.
In an interview with HYPEBAE, Hendry mentioned the concept for Blonde had been in the works for the past two years and it’s stuck with her until she executed it. I picked up on the theme of transformation and the ability to slip under the radar or be seen associated that is associated with wigs. Further driving this point and deconstructing, or de-stabilizing gender norms, all wig drawings have male names, like Peter, Nathan, and Keith. Piggybacking on the importance of these concepts Hendry decided to give 100% of the proceeds to Ali Forney Center, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth in NYC.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the life span of the pop-up was only three days. People are still posting photos as if the exhibition was yesterday which is no small feat these days. However, it’s not new news for Hendry’s work to cause a lasting impression and a flurry of Instagram hype. It was months before people stopped posting about Rorschach. A show which generated very long lines of eager people waiting to go through her inkblot test-inspired bounce house.
Hendry understands that her encompassing experiences might not be for everyone: “People can choose to interact with the exhibit however they choose or not interact at all. I build exhibitions purely out of selfish joy and excitement, I do not expect that to resonate with everyone,” she says. But with immersive exhibitions on the rise, it is impossible not to see how on-trend her projects are.
If you missed the chance to see Blonde, keep an eye out for Hendry’s upcoming exhibition and subtle reveals on her Instagram. Her next exhibition, EPILOGUE, is coming up in London from May 12-May 22, 2022.
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Alexandra Israel graduated from Bates College in 2010. A museum aficionado since her introduction to Jean Dominque Ingres' portraits as a small child, she enjoys spending her free time at museums and finding off-the-beaten-track gallery shows. Israel has been working in PR for over seven years, primarily within book publishing and in the art world. She has held positions at Penguin Book Group, Aperture Foundation, and Third Eye among others. l Instagram l