Portland sculptor Randy Regier’s terrific new installation “Out of the Box” at Wentworth Institute of Technology presents us with a mystery, namely: what the heck happened?
The scene: a living room, perhaps from the ‘60s, with two tired orange easy chairs around a mod table holding an ashtray full of cigarettes. Boy toys are heaped at the right—a jet plane, a flying saucer, “The Christ of the American Road” driving an orange sports car, a series of rubber John Manshaft action figure playsets (“9:00 to 5:00 Action” or “Antarctica: Stranded Action”). A framed, lit portrait of Jesus flickers on the wall.
Fallen over in front of the left chair is a little “Shokor X-7” metal toy robot, plugged into a wall outlet. The green carpet is singed around the toy, and a lamp has fallen to the floor next to it. A box explains it’s a “shocking robot / common house current / electric powered / stands and falls down.” A red tag inside the box reads, “Heed warning: Plugged in toy can cause loss of life!”
Everything is so astonishingly, vividly realistic—from the found furniture to toys and packages that Regier carefully crafted to the peanuts littering the seat on the right—that it takes effort to remember that it’s not real. It’s a 3D story, a pulp detective tale like the “John Manshaft” paperback cracked open on the left chair, sometimes a bit too cute, but all put together with the skill and story spinning of Ilya Kabakov or Mike Kelley or Christoph Buchel or the Museum of Jurassic Technology or Chris Ware.
Regier refers to the chairs as mom’s and dad’s, suggesting a boy with a pile of toys who is terribly injured by the electric robot. But I keep imagining just two people, one for each chair. Maybe a divorced dad and his son, whom he tries to connect with by showering him with toys.
Or maybe just a lonely bachelor, collecting his fancy toys, with an extra chair for some hoped for guest who never comes. The Manshaft toys (slogan: “Do you know an average man”) speak of nostalgic spaceage guy American dreams overcome by gray flannel suit reality. The “9:00 to 5:00 Action” set includes a work punchcard and clock. Picture the bachelor, alone fiddling with his electric robot, trying to escape into his dreams, when tragedy strikes.