Day of the Locust at White Flag Projects[uds-billboard name=”locust”]In White Flag Project’s Day of the Locust, curator Jessica Baran exhibits a group of artists whose work faces the promises, failures, and frustrating workings of the art world and its place in the illusionary American Dream. The disillusionment faced after the promise of each new art movement and how the select seven artist dealt with it, whether through sarcasm, guile, or a dramatic exit is, in part, catalogued here.
Katherine Bernhardt’s Untitled (2011), a roughly painted woman with her legs spread and her hands in a precarious position on her upper thigh, hangs straight ahead, the first image visitors see as they walk in the door. Typical of Bernhardt’s complex, female ‘types,’ she paints women who have succumbed to festishized, media-saturated images. But, as in Untitled, Bernhardt’s expressionistic brushstrokes and angularly painted limbs ‘taints’ the woman’s body and decreases the pleasure of the voyeuristic gaze. The woman’s colorfully streaked hair sits wildly atop a head with bright red lips whose color drips like blood down the canvas. Playing upon the depictions of women from the Modernist, Expressionistic, and Pop boys club of artists like Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, and Roy Lichtenstein, Bernhardt’s rich, messed up anti-femme fatales give a quick punch in the face to machismo of twentieth century art movements and then go back to sipping their cosmopolitans.
Jon Pestoni continues the mid-century art movement re-write with his Red Sweep (2009), a loose grid of red brushstrokes intersected by blues, blacks and whites. Known for his gestural abstractions, a term strongly associated with Jackson Pollock, Pestoni brings an experienced layering and paint application to his work, more in tune to emotion and Romanticism than strictly ideologue.
The always is-it-or-isn’t-it-critical Pop Art is dutifully supplied by Mamie Tinkler and Jonathan Horowitz, who revel in the subversive nature of the seemingly mundane. Tinkler’s Economy! (2008) reads “It’s the economy, stupid,” and her Lonely People (2007) states, “Lonely people go to the post office,” make us reconsider art’s own language of propaganda and also how words are often how we feel most at ease experiencing a work of art. In Horowitz’s tongue-in-cheek Tofu on a Pedestal in Gallery (2002), a large block of white tofu floating in water in a clear cube, you can almost imagine the art critic who still futilely strives to describe the work purely in terms of form. Horowitz’s Coke/Pepsi (112 Cans) (2011) is displayed outside, repeating the red and blue cans over and over, like the propaganda of two political parties, whose limitations, when presented side-by-side, seem like a cruel, simplistic joke.
Although Lee Lozano’s untitled minimalist drawings on graph paper (1964-1965) and Charlotte Posenenske’s sheet steel, larger-than-life Vierkantrohr (Square Tubes) (1967) contrast greatly in their size and respective viewer experience paper, both the late Lozano (d. 1999) and Posenenske (d. 1985) had blossoming careers and fame that they abruptly left, Lozano in ’69 and Posenenske in ’68. Neither found the ability to successfully merge art with life and they abandoned what they believed to be the false promises of art to have real and lasting social and political change amidst the commodity culture of the 50s and 60s. Their work here attests to a willingness to adapt to new art movements, but a failure to truly believe in them as the ultimate expression of their own practices.
Along with Lozano and Posenenske, Rochelle Feinstein best makes the connection to the title of the exhibition, Day of the Locust, because the three women, like the lead character in the 1939 novella of the same name by Nathanael West, all found that the aspirations they sought through art were unfulfilled, in part due to the disillusionment of fame and fortune so deeply ingrained in the idea of the American Dream. The heaviness reflected in West’s depression-era story about an artist trying to rise above economic and cultural poverty is paralleled Feinstein’s extensive, A Catalogue of the Estate of Rochelle F. – Paintings 2009-2010 (2010) in the post-economic crash of our current times. The twenty-two framed drawings include collages, ink drawings, and a general consolidation of dismal things, create a sort of estate for the economically struggling living that references the art world’s bed partner – the extremely wealthy – and their coveted collections.
In presenting the biggest twentieth century art movements, including Conceptualism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, etc., Baran wryly exhibits artistic movements like un-perfect products to pick and choose from, and in doing so, points to their overlaps, contradictions, and failures to fully be what they claimed to be or to ever satisfy an ‘ultimate’ art form.
Day of the Locust continues at White Flag Projects on 4568 Manchester Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63110 until 10 December, 2011. White Flag Projects is open Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5.