On ViewOrtega Y Gasset Project
Rachel Klinghoffer: Suspended in My Masquerade
January 25 – March 29, 2020
There is something of the sublime in Rachel Klinghoffer’s installation of paintings and sculptures but not quite in the way Edmund Burke’s 1757 treatise intended. For Burke, the pleasurable dissolution of the self when experiencing the sublime had its origin in fear, which stemmed from a sense of danger. In Klinghoffer’s works, fear is not the motivating force, but rather, the primal urge to become one with nature, which elicits a similar sense of selflessness. Think of sunsets, the broad expanse of a calm ocean, or a mountain vista, which don’t induce fear, but still fill the viewer with awe. Klinghoffer’s works have this effect, using rainbow colors, inchoate forms, exuberant decorative materials, and titles with pop song lyrics that pay tribute to the Dionysian excesses of adolescence. Juxtaposing this ecstasy, Klinghoffer marshals an army of personal keepsakes and tchotchkes that exquisitely detail moments in her life as a child, as a teen, and as a married woman with her own offspring. The power of her work lies in this studied contrast between sublime rapture and the obsessive close-up. The missing middle ground—the realm of the social, the political, the topical—exists as a gap where we viewers can enter to fully identify with her experience.
Who can resist an artwork that features macramé and a title quoting a Grateful Dead song about recreational sex? Thank you for a real good time (round and round and round and round) (2020) hangs from the ceiling, a two-tiered planter that shifts from turquoise top to a pale magenta bottom. The list of materials goes on for a third of a page, annotating objects that dredge up Klinghoffer’s past with hilarious particulars. These artworks are funny, and the best humor lies in the details. We have, for starters: a button from the Hard Rock Hotel when Klinghoffer was 16; her husband’s childhood figurines; the tissue paper wrapping from gifts for her son’s bris; a necklace she wore in 3rd grade; and on and on. All of the objects in one way or another originate in the complex fabric of relationships between parents, children, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and friends. The items in question appear in the two glass vases hanging in each planter. How Klinghoffer manages to store all these things, much less keep track of their origins, is one of the more remarkable feats of her practice, speaking to her stated admiration of Miriam Schapiro’s femmage. This careful preservation of the past has traditionally been women’s emotional work.
The paintings are visually seductive, but their very opulence overwhelms any sense of connection to Klinghoffer’s life. All we can really see are beautifully airbrushed surfaces, while objects that connect us to Klinghoffer’s personal history fade into the background. Who am I to blow against the wind (2020) best manages to maintain the tension between the optical and the autobiographical that animates the rest of her work. In large part, Klinghoffer pulls this off with a bra that she places along the bottom left edge of the painting. The object, listed in the materials list as “Bra from collector she wore on her honeymoon,” protrudes from the surface, one of the few objects in the paintings to maintain an individual presence. However, even in this painting, the formal subsumes the conceptual and ultimately short-circuits our ability to find an entry point into her narrative.
Unsurprisingly, Klinghoffer admits a profound admiration for the Pattern and Decoration movement of the ’70s and ’80s. Suspended in my Masquerade (2020) not only brings the personal and the transcendental into complete balance, but also adds another layer of significance. Klinghoffer takes yet another macramé planter, this one sporting an actual house plant, transforming the assembled mementos at the planter’s base into a bizarre clump that, painted in prismatic colors, begins to take on a pronounced anatomical feel, like someone’s internal organs. However, the assemblage does not overwhelm the ornamental character of the beads, crystals, tin stars of David, bits from her daughter’s old lunch box, or the graceful fronds of the spider plant. Described as a cutting originally from Lee Krasner, she brings into play the transference of art from one generation to another. Spider plants can propagate themselves from one cutting, an indefinite cycle. So it is with art. Each artwork can produce a cutting from one person’s experience that can potentially take root in someone else’s life, provided they are open to it. Klinghoffer’s undeniable generosity in sharing her experience, against a background of visual bliss, makes this particular cutting well worth taking home.