Nose Bleed

FUSE GALLERY | MARCH 28 – APRIL 25, 2012

Having just arrived from Mars, I found myself woefully out of depth visiting Nose Bleed, a group show curated by Erik Foss at Fuse Gallery. The show, featuring over 40 works by mainly Lower East Side and Brooklyn artists—Aiko, Bijoux Altamirano, Esao Andrews, Bast, Ben Bertocci, Kevin Bourgeois, Conrad Carlson, Isabella Costan-Toth, Daze, Cheryl Dunn, Tristan Eaton, Steve Ellis, Faust, Leo Fitzpatrick, Othelo Gervacio, Linda Griggs, Haze, Richard Kern, Kyle Krueger, KP Lawless, Lisa Lebofsky, Lorenzo Masnah, Alyssa Monks, Clayton Patterson, Anton Perich, Andrew Poneros (Pork), Sara Rahbar, Joe Roberts, Ivory Serra, Shelter Serra, Nikki Sneakers, Spam, James Stone, Judith Supine, Pamela Tait, Nate Turbow, Jack Walls, Mitra Walter, Joshua Wildman, and Nick Zinner—symbolically presents in single (and sometimes two) examples the work of artists with L.E.S. roots.

Judith Supine, “Million Man March.” Courtesy Fuse Gallery.

There is much more to Nose Bleed, which refers to the erstwhile attitude of those living on the L.E.S. (of which I myself was artist/denizen at that now nostalgic time) toward the uptown art establishment, than appears in a superficial viewing of the show’s shorthand offerings. And that’s the biggest challenge, to see beyond the works shown—the tip of the cranial iceberg—to the larger bodies of these artists’ works, which fairly beg for elaboration. If Nose Bleed is flawed, it’s in the realm of underexposure and overinclusion: photos by Dunn, Kern, Krueger, Patterson, Perich, Sneakers, Stone, Wildman, and Zinner could have encompassed a show in themselves.

While most of Nose Bleed’s artists won’t soon threaten Jeff Koons’s or Damien Hirst’s stratospheric duopoly, nor will Fuse soon threaten Gagosian’s cachet, many of its artists have achieved considerable success in the fine or commercial art fields. One, Bertocci, actually works for Koons. In fact, Bertocci’s best work, of which his “Piggy” is unrepresentative, recalls the life-costing work of the late Mark Lombardi. In “Satellite for Party Gang and 300,000…” (2006), part of a promising series, he compares rationalism and deism in diagram. While this text- and idea-based content, paralleling that of Jenny Holzer and Glenn Ligon, may at first seem dogmatic or naïve, it has multimedia potential transcending the image of a romanticized painter toiling alone in an Avenue C walk-up. Linda Grigg likewise incorporates text into her “Urine Mourning-Serrano Homage,” a poignant narrative in a wash of sepia ink superimposed on a crucifix about an AIDS death.

It’s impossible to do justice to so many artists with so few words, so let me say, all are worth seeing. A few of note: Aiko’s “Spring Break,” a CD cover-like layered composition of black stencil and pink spray paint featuring a foreground femme and background movie-magazine embrace; Bast’s “Sweet Hooligan,” a doctored butchershop pseudosign crowing “Perdue Chicken Thugs” and a handgun-waving cartoon duck, fails the lights-on-and-anyone’s-at-home test, like so much other vacant street art (Bast’s dearer, “Pea Shooter” zip gun is a criminally seductive objet de la mort); Judith Supine’s “Million Man March,” three Newport cigarette package assemblages, are Basquiat-brilliant; Spam’s “Time is for the Birds, Grandpa” and Joe Roberts’s “B4 The internet” are Cornell-esque; and “For Fear of Four Tears” by Andrew Poneros (Pork) and “Look into my, in...(dustry)” by Conrad Carlson are superlative graphic collages. Persian expat Sara Rahbar’s “In Love with Memories, with Glimpses of Who We Once Were,” at first glance a beautiful tapestry quilt, reveals itself to be a disturbing hexagram floret of masked AK-47-bearing men and dancing women. Rahbar’s cryptic, poetic pronouncements add mystique to powerful anti-American artworks shown at the likes of Saatchi London.

Not mincing words, one must say that, as presented, many of Nose Bleed’s artists appear to be either illustrators or primitives. Formally, their work is non-conceptual—no Fred Sandback planar strings, no Brion Gysin concrete poetry, no Tino Sehgal kisses. Nose Bleed’s works are mostly representational, replete with the obsessive inclusions of skulls, breasts, and swastikas, as well as heavy metal gothic content eschewed by the gatekeepers of high art, not quite insane enough to make the outsider art cut. Patterson’s “Untitled (cochise),” for example, wears no less than five anti-Semitic Hakenkreuze and a do-rag full of memento mori clichés. That the latter now appear on kids’ apparel and preppy ties shows just how completely consumer culture has appropriated outlaw iconography.

As global gangsterism tightens its stranglehold on the populace, and wage-slave labor and technology disintermediate nearly everyone except for multinationals, technocrats, and branded megastars, it’s ironic that some of Nose Bleed’s artists seek “financial success,” the clichéd mainstream model one might think they would abhor. No such luck; the film Beautiful Losers, in which Dunn participated, closes with a graffiti artist expressing delight to be working for the sugar and bottled water dealing PepsiCo. And Tristan Eaton’s single work, “Death’s Embrace,” is only the tip of the iceberg of a prolific and celebrated career dedicated to the production of consumerist commercial art that’s antithetical to that of such socially responsible precursors as Dr. Seuss and Syd Hoff.

On this strange bedfellows note, Patterson ran a series of “salons” for the recent L.E.S.-sited BMW/Guggenheim Lab, one in support of a community initiative to provide medical care for the poor. Patterson himself is a human metaphor for L.E.S. idiosyncrasy: his touted trip—selling baseball caps to the hippest, videographing police violence in Tompkins Square, lobbying for the legalization of tattoo parlors, and advocating on behalf of the community, is a long, strange one indeed.

Nose Bleed’s timing is notable, as the Lower East Side scene gentrifies in its own millennial way (as did Chelsea once, and Williamsburg), with small and no-doubt underfunded galleries gathering, en masse, in the neighborhood and showing the hopeful artwork of a new generation of higher-educated artists with elitist aspirations. The New Museum and N.Y.U. are undeniable—if ambivalently viewed—dual magnets. Make no mistake, Nose Bleed is anything but the aforementioned, as critic Carlo McCormick opines. Its artists are artists as we instinctively understand the term—talented individuals following their own stars outside of conformist norms, practical considerations be damned. Their lifestyles may be courageous, improvident, risky, or pioneering, outcast or self-exiled. Bringing their disparate works together, Foss intriguingly evokes the L.E.S. culture. One looks forward to their future solo shows.

Contributor

David St.-Lascaux

DAVID ST.-LASCAUX is a poet and author of the upcoming memoir My Adventures with la Belle Jeune Fille; L'Oubliette, or Plan A; and e*sequiturs. Website: Interrupting Infinity - davidstlascaux.com.

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