Monday, February 27, 2006

Snowmen in Dogpiles

David Humphrey: painter/sculptor of cute cuddlies and couples, animals and Ike, arrangeur of afterparties. At Triple Candide - er, Candie - he stacks, aligns, and configures the snowmen into sexually-suggestive set-ups, a send-up of sports huddles, dance circles, and hot-tub hijinx.

We aren't sure how DH obtained the manufactured snowmen, but we like how he customized them. On some, he splattered paint in messy gestures, and on others painted pairs of eyes. The eyes appear especially on the hands and around the carrot noses. Is he hinting at autoeroticism by animating the hands? Also, many of the snowmen are upside-down - inverted - so the carrots appear where genitals might. It looks like snowmen with orange hard-ons, possibly sixty-nining each other. The dogpile along the wall could also be an orgy.

Male athletes embrace, slap asses, etc in a communal display of fraternity. The homoeroticism of this practice is obvious and Humpey - er, Humphrey - toys with it through his snowmen. Just like rugby players end a game with a communal keg; snowmen end a Christmas season with a swinging afterparty.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Can You Hear Me Now?"

Everytime I pass this corner, my phone rings. The caller hangs up before I answer. But I look up, and sure enough, the second-floor skull is looking on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Carpet Matches the Drapes

This was the pinnacle in the recent Schiele retrospective at Neue Galerie. We get all of the merits of the artist: direct sexuality, structural yet seductive line, and feverish color. The piece is called "Girl with Black Hair," but it could be "Vagina."

The face peers out from a black nest, like labia protruding from a bush. The torso is a bulging shaft, like a hard-on - compare to Munch's "Madonna," described here a week ago. A tangle of overlapping vaginas occupy the remaining composition.

The black vagina, like a gaping laceration, stretches across the drawing, a waving flag or barbed claw reaching out. A white vagina reverses its black counterpart; like a vaginal yin and yang. Beneath this is the vaginal window, the meta-vagina, which spreads open to unveil the vagina proper, enshrouded in black curls. It is the apex of a three-hole arrangement, a triangle, supported by the two black holes at either side.

Schiele loads the drawing with sexual imagery, but stumbles into the typically male mistake of reducing the vagina to a hole or slit, as if it's a wound. They overlook the structural and external complexities. Could a man have painted a blooming, complex O'Keefe flower? Probably not, unless he studied gynecology.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Critical Space

Always attuned to ambiguity, Diddy interrupts his ad space for some self-criticism, sort of like a character in fiction reflecting on his actions, adding depth and complexity. "Are they right? Am I an alcoholic/womanizer/bad writer?"

We like to think of his music the same way. You know, you take "hits from the 80s/ and make it sounds so crazy." This recontextualization - or revisionary composition - makes the listener rethink what he had considered familiar. It's like deja vu...

Anyway, Diddy doesn't take himself for granted, as evidenced by his generous provision of "critical space."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Buildings Collapsing

Images of collapsing buildings seem indelibly etched into the American memory. After seeing those towers crumble, and the ensuing months of digging through rubble and dust, few of us can evade the assocation of 9/11 with any other ruined building. Jin Meyerson responds by depicting unsettled architectural structures.

Workers toil through mounds of debris. Standing buildings merge with scaffolding and skeletal frames. Loose sheets of paper drift midair. All this happens through a jarring filter of blurring and spinning (spin control?). In "Tower" (2005), a chorus of apparently indigenous people huddles beneath the surface. Are they survivors of the disaster? Mole people? Or are they the "inner layer" over which our culture has shaped its environment?

Architecural elements ground the pictures and engender great pictorial scale - it's like Gursky after vodka shots on your birthday. Looking carefully, one thinks of Neo Rauch, who often paints men at work, wielding shovels and axes in fragmented, personal spaces. Both Rauch and Meyerson use perspective to indicate depth, but toy with it to accomodate psychological divisions. We also see Daniel Richter-ian phosphorescent phigures. Gallery-mate Tom McGrath shares Meyerson's interest in distorted, blurred pictorial intervention. And Meyerson nods to Lee Bontecou, whose sculpture appears in "Tower."

Like Rosenquist, Meyerson acknowledges the seams of his photo-derived compositions. He slides with ease through a range of media and palettes and this show seems like a successful leap forward from his earlier tilt-a-whirl psychedelic paintings. His use of figures opens new doors and possibly invites him to the narrative painters' party.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Waiting for Ghada

Ghada Amer depicts hot girl-on-girl action. Women pose spread-eagle, masturbate, suck each other's nipples, and sixty-nine each other. They make "O" faces and stick out their tongues, and indulge your fetishes by brandishing high heels, garter belts, jewelry, and dildos.

But the erotic mise en scene seem secondary to the technique of stitching into the linen. With multi-colored string, sometimes on a painted ground, Amer draws by sewing. The string delineates each figure, weaving around the forms and then joining hanging masses of tangled string. Occasionally, she paints over or under the stitched lines in chromatically intense washes. The figures often repeat across the surface, sometimes arranged on a grid, albeit with slight differences each time - limbs disappear, or a stiletto.

This repetition brings to mind Warhol, who repeated portraits, car crashes, and soup cans. The materials involved connect Amer to other stitchers, such as Orly Cogan, Kent Henricksen, and even Mike Kelley. And the circumstantial gender-specificity of sewing adds another dimension to the work. What is more "girly" than sewing? This cultural convention - that only females sew - because men are busy hammering and sawing - opens up a visual language with femininity at its source. (We're on thin ice here, wary of sexism.) Who was the last notable image-stitcher? Betsy Ross?

Yet the drawings aren't sexy, even if they are sexual. The women posing are generic and prototypical, devoid of personality. And with the reductive style of drawing, they seem more like advertising icons ready for a branding label. They aren't inviting. Moreover, male viewers are shunned when they realize that Ghada's sex kittens need no men. The women seem content with each other, or even alone. Finally, the serial repetition they suffer/enjoy causes the eyes a sexual "diminishing return." With each successive generation of the figure, we are less impressed, and detect the typical tedium of these moaning mavens.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Munch and Punch

The T.D. crew caught a glimpse of the Munch opening last night at MoMA. It was crowded and fancy. We drank some whiskey and debated the pronunciation of his name. Is it supposed to rhyme with "bunch?" Or is it like "monk?" Or is it like "moonk?"

The show opens with "The Dance of Life." You'll also see some early oils on canvas and cardboard, including a chilling early self-portrait. A version of "Vampire" hangs nearby, different than that at the Met. The famous "Madonna" is on the same wall. (If you omit the woman's head, then it looks phallic - see illus. at right.) Several takes on "The Kiss" are grouped together and there's a version of "By the Deathbed." A print of "Puberty" is there, but not the painting, and "The Scream" is tied up in someone's basement.

Later in the show, we drooled over a giant triptych of men on the beach, elements of which reminded us of Cezanne's "The Bather." The colors are daring and he uses these insistent, parallel brushstrokes, almost like a weaving pattern. The 2 panels come from different collections, so the frames are mismatched. There's also a giant drawing of Nietzsche - did you know Munch was a Nietzsche reader? Me neither. I would have guessed Schopenhauer.

Finally, we stumbled into the smoldering "Self-portrait with a Burning Cigarette." It's chilling and magnetic, unlike some of Beckmann's self-portraits, in which he looks like a manicured dandy compared to the corpse-like Munch. Munch began in that dark, tormented place and returned
to it later in his career. There's a "setpoint theory" of Munch's sensibility. Even if he could evade his demons for a while, it wouldn't last, and he would always return to them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

In Harms' Way

What’s black and white and brown all over? Or orange? Or with bird, airplane, and gentle giant imagery? Bendix Harms is, and it’s the Hamburg painter’s first solo exhibition in New York.

Invoking 1970s Guston and late Picasso, Bendix Harms slathers on the paint, depicting an apparently middle-aged man gazing at birds, admiring airplanes, and unveiling his six breasts. Each canvas hosts just one or two hues with black and white. The suite of about a dozen paintings is installed densely, which is successful: it suggests a prolific practice.

The protagonist in each image discovers a bird’s eggs in a nest, tenderly weeps over a dead bird’s body, eagerly boards an airplane, sleeps in a Volkswagen under a family of owls, and bathes at a spa. Bendix Harms presents his hero in a clumsy, chunky style; painted with an untutored style that approaches what Modernists called “primitivism” or at least "naive." His eyes are sad and lonely, his hair parted on the side, like a boy, and his hands and feet blocklike and blunt. He is a tree-hugging Id stumbling around the woods; or an embodiment of a hearty appetite for nature, companionship, and the dazzle of technological innovation. One thinks of the philosopher Rousseau and of Tarzan. Yet of the jungle he is not: our hero combs his hair, drives a car, and bathes - so he's civilized.

Although Harms is German, his narrative of a loner in nature connects him to Dana Schutz, and Frank, her “Last Man on Earth.” His restrcited palette reminds us of icy Tuymans, but Harms is too warm and hearty- figurative Guston is his kindred spirit. Both painters share the interest in an introspective investigation of man’s place in society (or antisociety).

After absorbing the refreshing briskness of Harms’ sincere and romantic revelations that “man is naturally good” – compare to Thomas Hirschhorn’s bloodbath a few blocks north – be sure to inquire about the drawings in the back. They are more delicate, but just as delightful.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dennis Cooper Theoretical Drawing Show

Check out Dennis Cooper's theoretical drawing show: One of our favorite local painters, Keith Mayerson, is included. DC has also posted theoretical sculpture shows and biennials on his highly informative and entertaining blog.

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