Out of Place: Summer 2002 Picksby Hrag Vartanian
FIT curated by Flipside (Caroline Cox & Tim Spellos) at Schroeder Romero
AFFLICTED at Roebling Hall
BOILED OR FRIED at Pierogi
In 1989, painter R.B. Kitaj’s wrote about a Diasporist art. Something that came out of an artist that “paints in two or more societies at once.” A flexible position that was “…as old as the hills (or caves) but new enough to react to today’s newspapers or last week’s aesthetic musing or tomorrow’s terror.”
As an American Jew in London, Kitaj must have seen the wave coming in many different directions. Thirteen years later, I think Kitaj was right. A new sensibility is still emerging from the increasingly transient nature of art and its creators that push art to new uncomfortable limits that often seem contaminated with difficulty.
At the slightly claustrophobic Fit show, Elana Herzog and Bob Seng create works that sit on the margins, slightly uneasy in the gallery. Herzog’s “Untitled”s (“#6” and “#10”, both 1999) are both moody and displaced objects and fascinating remnants of a programmed action. Each work is a brightly colored chenille drape stapled to sheetrock. One is the refuse of a curtain torn off the wall leaving patches, staples, and holes, and the other hands intact and bulging in waves. They are deceptively decorative and in a poetic limbo between ruin and monument.
Bob Seng cuts into the gallery wall in his “Upper Body” (2002) and makes an otherwise stable structure as pliable as a deck of cards. The reassembled outcome twists in discomfort, saying a lot about the sense of security we unknowingly derive from out environment.
At Roebling Hall’s summer show, Courtney Smith’s hand-carved florals on old furniture stand out for their originality. Carved directly into the wooden pieces, Smith’s subtractions infect the works with a whimsy not part of the original’s practicality. The carvings are cleverly arranged at edges appearing initially as the result of wear. All three “Selvageria” (2002) works are beautiful objects, tampered with in order to rekindle a bit of the magic that is sparked when two worlds meet. At the same show, Debbie Grant’s graphic “House” (2002) is fueled by New York neuroses and stories of people in the midst of traumatic displacements. The dialogue bubbles twist in the tension. The panel is an awkward flat wooden house pictograph covered with the line drawings. One welfare mom is told about mandatory drug testing she will have to endure to stay in her housing development and another woman breaks down in tears when Children’s Services tells her that they will take custody of her child.
At Pierogi, Dawn Charles’s large drawing shares common ground with Grant’s fragmentations. In fact, Grant and Charles both work in a dense style that melds teenager doodling with adult anxiety.
Charles’ ballpoint drawing on paper, “Charlie & Marion Castle’s” (2002), is the scenic suburban equivalent to Grant’s urban dramas. The 15-foot work pans across a TV sitcom-like home, drawn with the flavor of 1950s illustration. The top is filled with editorial scribblings, like subplots that spin-off at random. “Failure is not permitted here,” is scrawled in small letters on the top left. The scene is carefully directed. Characters are suggested while French knock-off furniture, checkerboard patterns, and bookshelves set the stage.
Grant and Charles are comfortable creating works that examine individuals and their surroundings, and give the impression that nothing ever feels like home.
Across the room from Charles’ panorama are three radiant Brigitte Bardot constructions by Stacy Greene: “B.B. 1967,” “Brigitte 1958,” “Brigitte Bardot 1955” (2002). Each is layered like mattresses, with brightly painted wooden mounts, foam centers, thinner dense layers and topped with vintage French magazines advertising Bardot’s sex kitten persona. Each is string wrapped with a colored film that is half plastic mattress covering and half bonbon box.
Bardot was a media sensation. She retired at the age of forty in 1973 but her fame lasts till today. She became an animal activist before it was fashionable, but recently she came under fire after she criticized Korea’s penchant for canine cuisine and called it all very uncivilized. Greene returns to the original untarnished Bardot who once mused, “I wish I invented sex. Sex is number one.” Out of her original French context, she is lost in 21st century realities. The pre-public conscience Bardot was a perfect conduit for her time. She herself said, “Every age can be enchanting, providing you live within it.” Bardot is a relix of her age. Green articulates the dilemma best, even Bardot isn’t Bardot anymore.
Hrag Vartanian is a writer, critic, and designer. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.