Volume 78 / Number 4 - June 25 - July 1, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since
1933

Courtesy Morgan Lehman

LEFT: Chrissy Conant “Chrissy Skin Rug” RIGHT: Suzanne Wright “Conoco Phillips”

Sex, rugs and rock ’n’ roll mark summer’s arrival
The hot stuff comes out in group shows and solos

SEXY TIME: A Group Effort
Through August 1
Morgan Lehman
317 10th Avenue
(212-268-6699;
morganlehmanngallery.com)

LORDS OF MUSIC
Servane Mary
Through July 5
Martos Gallery
540 West 29th Street
(212-560-0670; martosgallery.com)

By Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

It’s summer and the time is right for getting loose and letting your hair down. Traditionally, galleries have used the slot to promote fresh artists and mount theme-oriented group shows.

At Morgan Lehman, the theme is sex and the sentiments range from saucy to slick and sick. Satire and humor offer ways to penetrate our complex behavioral codes regarding eroticism. And because the subject is our favorite, there are multiple layers of meaning to unpack.

The most overtly political is Suzanne Wright’s “Conoco Phillips” which depicts a provocative female figure lying in bed. Beneath blue breasts her midriff turns to rippling water. An oilrig plunges its drills and support struts into her liquid ribcage. A dual sensation of violation and succor trip us up. Are we raping Mother Nature or is she nursing us? Logic tells us we can’t have it both ways.

Randy Polumbo’s “Buttercups” try to have it both ways too. The fecund satellite flowers are studded with dildos and hot dogs. The assortment of “rubber adult novelty items” protrude like pistils or carpels from solar panels fitted with LEDs.

The resultant blooms operate on contradictory trajectories: hard vs. soft; organic vs. technical; cerebral vs. sexual and amusement vs. obsession. They’re also comical but retain a sheen of luxurious mien.

Not so funny, but every bit as luxurious is the controversial print of a beauty pageant contestant from Austin, Texas. Framed in an over the shoulder come-hither look, you would think the simpering hottie with her tumbling blond tresses was at least 18. So when you find out she’s only 8 — you experience a heaping serving of guilt, revulsion and incredulity.

Playboy magazine is calling in Alix Smith’s large portrait of a nude woman on a bed looking at spreads of women. The seemingly casual pose (with feet raised behind her as she lies on her stomach poring over the pages) mimics the poses of the females in the magazine. Dozens of Playboys are scattered around her. The ironic treatment pokes fun at male fantasies by multiplying the objects of desire to a ridiculous degree. Smith recently completed a series about religious rituals called “Metaphoric Acts.”

Metaphor likewise informs “Trouser Snake” drawn by Michael Caine. A woolly mammoth type beast sports a really long trunk. A cowboy rides the behemoth as a soldier holds up the trunk’s end evoking associations between the current president and the average grunt in Iraq. It suggests that war is a macho thing and men can be led around by the penis—gee, you think so?

Animals humping are pursued by hunters or observed by children in gouache and graphite vignettes by Sabrina Marquez. A childlike simplicity and stylization enlighten these works, which are by turns amusing or foreboding.

Kris Knight’s oil painting of two fairly young guys kissing is a beauty. At once titillating and innocent the work is underpinned by sublime details like a coonskin cap, tree stumps and a jet-black sky.

Referring to art’s beginnings as trophies—wild animal heads and horns on masks—Chrissy Conant takes the idea to its ultimate conclusion. She has made a silicone rubber cast of her body and turned it into “Chrissy Skin Rug.” Anatomically correct, the smooth surface was embossed with nipples and fraught with elbow wrinkles. No Barbie doll, Conant’s little bungalow (minus the thatch) resembled a peach pit. Not that I looked that closely, ahem….

Actually, it was a little disconcerting to examine the sculpture. The head, with its spilling hair and staring glass eyes, seemed very much alive and gave one the uncomfortable sense of being a voyeur who was being observed. Conant fiercely makes the point (and points the finger at men) that women are dehumanized when treated as one-dimensional sex objects.

Gods of the stage, Jimi, Mick, Patti et al are the subjects of Servane Mary’s latest portraits at Martos Gallery. Her last series shown in Paris honored women and their resilience and dignity in the face of war and poverty. This time her watercolors help distill the energy of rock stars.

Critic Max Henry has written that Servane’s work achieves a “rupture” away from mass produced portraits of idols and restores a personal awareness. They represent her unique response to these legends (reportedly she hangs with Bryan Ferry).

All of the works are untitled so one can’t be sure about who’s who. Zappa, Dylan, Springsteen, Vicious… is that Trent Reznor? The quality of figuration is distorted and animated by the washy pigment. The bodies bend and blur as if they were submersed in streaming time. Occasionally shades of pink add a magic sprinkle of nightclub glamour—as if we’re still there, preserved in the black and white renderings. Ah, the glory.

Servane included a terrific red wax sculpture of a vertical, twisting horn, poised to gore. Emblematic of aggression and protection, it added a complementary touch of pure animal sexuality.

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