Gallery Going, by DAVID COHEN          
      A version of this article first appeared in the
New York Sun, November 18, 2004
 

 


"Clare Rojas: Table Turner"
at Deitch Projects until December 18.
(76 Wooster Street
between Grand and Canal,
212-343-7300).

"Adam McEwen" at
Nicole Klagsbrun until November 27 (526 W. 26th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues,
212-243-3335).

"Olive Ayhens" at
Gary Tatintsian until
December 2 (525 W. 25th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues,
212-633-0110).


DAVID COHEN

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Clare Rojas Table Turner 2004
installation at Deitch Projects
November 12 - December 18
Courtesy Deitch Projects

The notion that one is either feminine or a feminist clearly expired long before Clare Rojas hit the scene. "Table Turner," at Deitch Projects, the first solo show in New York by the 28-year-old Californian painter, filmmaker, and musician, declares its theme to be the portrayal of women in art, fashion, and the press. But the installation, videos, and paintings are a long way in form or spirit from the kind of exposé of sexism made familiar by artists associated with the women's movement, whether Adrian Piper, Judy Chicago, Cindy Sherman, or the Guerrilla Girls. In fact, you'd have to read the press release to know that critique was even on the agenda: This raucous funfair of an installation seems wholly consecrated to pleasure, for viewers and those depicted alike.

The title comes from men having to adopt the voluptuous/degrading poses assigned the female nude. Even so, sexuality comes across as a joyous detail, not the fearsome core, of this sweet riot of an exhibition. Ms. Rojas's touch is dainty in the most mildly postfeminist kind of a way - marking the same degree to which her naivité is knowing yet irony-free. Her exhibition could have better been titled "Song of Innocence and Experience": It derives its very considerable charm from the artist's protean inventiveness and nursery sensibility.

Ms. Rojas paints with folkloristic primitivism, although it is hard to pinpoint her style with enthnographic accuracy: Americana, comic books, South American and Indian chapbooks, and Eastern European illustration all chip into her eclectic yet cohesive style. In attitude she strikes a balance between postmodern youth culture and out-and-out nostalgia.

At the heart of her show, in Deitch's sprawling, raw, garage space, is a walk-in installation of countless painted panels of varying sizes, as well as freestanding boxes, animal shapes, gargantuan heads on a high up ledge. There is a sumptuous sense of dime-store illustration working as large-scale décor - a quality she shares with fellow San Fransciscans Barry McGee and the late Margaret Kilgallen, and other co-exhibitors, it seems, in the recent "Beautiful Losers" exhibition there.

Along the walls of the rest of the gallery, hanging with artful crudity from a cheerfully gaudy picture rail, are dozens of pictures, ranging in size from the small to the tiny. In a couple of discreet spaces she shows her animated films, made in collaboration with Jeffrey Wright, and inevitably recalling William Kentridge. One of these flips through copies of Marie Clare and Nylon, in which animated addenda subvert the ads and features with Rabelasian wit: white paint with dark humor. A girl's bust elongates, for instance, to form a hand that then slaps her behind. A woman's torso transmogrifies into a hirsute pair of testicles. The film ends with a skyline drawn in above a pair of splayed legs; a rocket then launches from the crotch and detonates over the city as an atom bomb: all clean, family fun.

Ms. Rojas has an exquisite touch, in whatever medium she choses: personal, naïve, but spunky, confident, plastic. Her vision is way ahead of any professed ideological position: What a welcome change.

***


Adam McEwen
Nicole 2004
C-print, 37 x 52-3/4 inches, edition 1/3
Courtesy Nicole Klagsbrun

The world divides between artists who - like the hero of Somerset Maugham's "The Moon and Sixpence" - leave dead-end bourgeois jobs to follow their muse, never looking back, and those who actually use something from their day jobs in their art. Adam McEwen is an extreme example of the latter. Before studies in California and his move to New York, the artist worked in his native Britain as an obituary-writer at the Independent.

At the center of this sprawling, disparate show - also a New York debut - is a wall of giant, blown-up, fake obituaries. Their subjects are living celebrities, among them Rod Stewart, Bill Clinton, Jeff Koons, and Nicole Kidman. They tell, in readable enough journalism, all you'd expect to learn from an obit, except how the individual died and whether anyone misses them. In a back room, the classic photograph of Mussolini and his mistress hanging upside down from a butcher's hook has been inverted. A gaping hole in the wall between this room and the rest of the gallery has been unceremoniously punched through.

The point of these morbid interventions isn't clear, but some clue is offered by the show's poetic but no less nihilistic title (vaguely recalling Duchamp's "Bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even"): "History is a Perpetual Virgin endlessly and repeatedly Deflowered by successive generations of F--ing Liars." Prior to this show, Mr. McEwen's best known works were two variation on the "sorry we're closed" sign, in classically banal typography, that read: "Sorry, We're Sorry" and "Sorry, We're Dead."

***


Olive Ayhens Urban Strata 2004
oil on canvas, 84 x 58 inches
Courtesy Gary Tatintsian

Urban visionary Olive Ayhens has the kind of childlike intensity that only comes with maturity. Her third solo exhibition of cityscapes at Gary Tatintsian evokes the raucous humor of Red Grooms, the pulsating otherness of Yvonne Jacquette, and the dionysian exuberance of Kokoschka. She revels in extreme disjunctions of scale, blowing up pictures of automobiles, say, or soldiers on guard duty, to ominous or absurd proportions.

Ms. Ayhens ability to have people work as a mass while still individualizing each figure reminds me of the British naïve realist L.S. Lowry. Her surfaces shimmer with a kind of cubist-futurist faceting that isn't allowed to rob her compositions of their unity or thrust. Her images are poised between the lyrical and the apocalyptic. They cappture both the poetry and the politics of the densely populated, literally and metaphorically stratified, used and abused city.


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