Andrew Krasnow: Of The Flesh ~ Skin Works 1990-2005
6015 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
October 27th – February 3rd 2007
By TOBEY CROCKETT
Andrew Krasnow’s retrospective exhibition, “Of The Flesh: Skin Works 1990-2005” at ADM Project in Hollywood is an extraordinary exhibition, by almost any standard. While the show also includes part of an older film depicting the crucifixion, a keepsake box of slides depicting older performances and installations, and some handsome prints, the lion’s share of the work are objects which Krasnow has fashioned from leather he has made from human skin. Some of the leather is brightly colored and much of it is rendered into a soft cocoa or taupe sort of neutral, a palette not out of place in the pseudo-Zen of today’s contemporary fashion scene. Legally acquired, and also including some of his own skin as is documented in some slides on the side, Krasnow’s use of our oldest material, ourselves, has understandably been a source of consternation over the years. But taken at face value, there is almost nothing in the materiality of the objects which suggest their unsettling origin, until one begins to look more closely. It is not a lurid undertaking. In fact, it is a rather beautiful, painstakingly crafted and well-installed exhibition with an attention to detail and respect for the material that is quite nearly heartbreaking, the show undeniably packing a visceral and emotional punch.
The gallery is divided into an inner room and an outer perimeter by a set of four columns and open panels which enclose the inner sanctum. While the exterior walls and the perimeter spaces are the typical antiseptic white of a well-lit gallery space, the inner sanctum is moodier, with the nearly neutral colors of the undyed human leather works nearly merging into the natural grain of plywood walls stained a soft walnut-ty brown. Within this confessional space, Krasnow blends motifs drawn from the Judaic, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim traditions with various everyday objects. Known for his mechanical objects, Krasnow has here limited himself to just one: a wooden platform dominated by a noisy and Kafka-esque reading machine entitled “Bookmark” (1999).
“Angel” (2000), the piece which most perfectly encapsulates the ambitions and successes of the show, both transcends and embodies the all too human materiality with which the visitor is inevitably confronted. What to make of this human flesh, literally tanned, pieced and sewn into an aspirational representation of a transubstantiation into lighter-than-air spirit? Modeled on an osprey wing from Audubon, and set into a rectangular ground as if torn from a book, one can not help but admire the subtlety with which the alternating feathers are signaled, the varying palette of taupe and cocoa brown, the rough and smooth sides of the leather creating a play of light that allows for an unsettling realism, as if it were a detailed fossil found in the living rock. Trailing strands of excess material break the frame on the lower right and allow for a messy spillover into the viewer’s space. Like indigenous and pioneer hunters and trappers of yore, these dangling ends alert us to the artist’s apparent loathing to waste any of this precious material. Indeed, many of the objects in the show are made from tiny scraps left over from the larger projects. In its many aspects, “Angel” is a heady confrontation of material and symbol, craft and technique – a text which viscerally enters our consciousness before we are able to fully process it.
Other neutrally colored, tanned but not dyed leather pieces which evoke simple, everyday objects include a baseball cap, a pair of strange cowboy boots, a flag, a wallet, a tie. Mixed in among these is Hamburger” (2000), a small object reminiscent of Rona Pondick’s pink, toothy “Head” (1991) sculptures. Krasnow’s labial stack is punctuated by the eerie presence of actual human teeth nestled amongst the folds which represent meat and bread, an evocation of vagina dentate that embodies menace, horror and suffering. As a statement for vegetarianism, few objects could hope to succeed more artfully.
Evoking the Holocaust, but not dwelling upon the tragedy to the exclusion of other acts of genocide taking place either in the past or present, Krasnow’s political and religious critiques are inescapable. The perimeter of the space is filled on one side with two rows of objects, faced off in confrontation with one another like partners at a square dance. On the one hand, “Parade Flags: Apollo Series” (1992) presents stiffly mounted American flags jutting out from the interior wall, an imperial display of patriotic rigor mortis, the shiny metal backs which support the flags reflecting one another in a regressive salute to the moonwalks of another era. Opposite, the “Lamp Shade Series” (1992) describes the infamous lampshades of the Holocaust by their absence, presenting only kerosene lamp bases without shades, the only alteration being a brightly colored band of red human leather which echoes the colorful flags en face.
With dozens of carefully constructed objects, the show is extensive, offering serious discourse tucked away in a beautiful and brave gallery across from the “Hollywood Forever” cemetery. Far from being sensationalist, it is a tender, spiritual show which confronts the viewer with deeply meditated philosophical and aesthetic issues. The transgression of materials is almost but not quite surpassed by the craftsmanship of its creation, by the artist’s abilities to shape this ever-present and overlooked material into richly challenging ideas and to remind the viewer of the power of art to transform our world.