criticismExhibitions
Monday, April 1st, 2002

Marcus Harvey


Mary Boone
541 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10001
March 9 – April 27, 2002

Those familiar with the work of Marcus Harvey primarily through his piece at the Sensation show will be in for a sensation of a different sort at Mary Boone Gallery. “Myra” (1995) employed children’s handprints in an image of a child murderer. No portraits of serial killers here; the gallery is dominated by three large (61/2 x 16′) still lives of dildos, vibrators, and the detritus of what is known in England as an “Ann’s Summer Party.” This, it was explained at the gallery, is like a Tupperware party, but not for Tupperware. Who knew? So, amidst the sex toys one finds pizza crusts, glasses of wine, stacked plates, and full ashtrays. This holds for two of the paintings; a third offers an overhead view of a bureau, with two top drawers open to reveal what one assumes were purchases made. This painting offers a key to the formal and semantic arrangements of the paintings, revealing visual interest far more considerable than the initial shock value, such as it is. One drawer is dominated by the warm tones and vertical shapes of the toys, the other by the cool rectangular shapes of folded clothes. The bureau top, seen from above, establishes a mediating art historical reference. The painting on the wall opposite is similarly divided roughly down the middle by two pillars of a black and a red sex toy-looking totemic with pleasure-delivering animals perched near the base of each. The division of the painting suggests a whimsical opposing of social spheres, with a good deal of messy spillage from one into the other: on one side the domestic references of stacked dirty dishes and party leavings in cool tones, on the other dirty (in another sense) sexual apparatuses in hot reds and pinks. On the far wall, toys shaped like corn and cucumbers rhyme visually with more traditional still life objects. Round shapes of handcuffs tuck up against rounded pizza crusts; a dildo penetrates the tranquility of a bowl of fruit. The paintings are about lots of things: the publicity of the private, the commodification of sex, the tedious monumentality of the erotic in the media age (acres of flesh in Times Square ads, and the like). And the paintings, one suspects, are about silence and self-censorship, or the evident preference of those visiting the gallery not to say much about what they are seeing. No matter how much we are inundated with sexual display and reference in ads and media, sex tends to reassert its mute privacy when we encounter its paraphernalia, its alien thingness as opposed to purely social immanence…So here is the it of sex-dildoes of all sorts, handcuffs, vibrators-as opposed to the id. When spread and magnified as they are in Marcus’s paintings, do these objects start to lose their particular reference, and settle into the formal interest of genre pieces–still lives on wooden surfaces-or do they so insist on their oversized potency, like big farm animals fattening on waves of lascivious interest. For most of us, it is somewhere in between, but the show is well worth a visit to find out.


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