Critics’ Picks

View of “Cary Leibowitz (Paintings and Belt Buckles),” 2013.

New York

Cary Leibowitz

89 Eldridge Street
September 6–October 13

Cary Leibowitz collects disappointments like a comedian does one-liners—he has, in fact, made an extraordinary career of it. Indeed, after nearly thirty years, one would label Leibowitz’s body of work up to now as a kind of compendium of disappointments. And his current solo show, “Cary Leibowitz (Paintings and Belt Buckles),” is simply more of what we’ve come to expect from one of contemporary art’s best and bleakest post–Borscht Belt–style funnymen.

One walks into the gallery choking on pink, a particular shade that seems to suffer as a cross between Barbie’s Dream Home and a bleached asshole. This is the result of a cleverly sadistic lighting setup and ten mostly large-scale pink-on-pink and red-on-pink latex and wood text paintings hanging on pink walls with phrases including: I Like Your Work/ Fuck You Too; Bette Midler Told Me I Can Come/You Are at Table One; Shit or Get Off the Pot Me Loves Me Me Loves Me Not (all works 2013). These thoughts are plucked from the small humiliations of daily art life, gay life, and just plain regular life, then billboardized. It’s the kind of behavior an obsessive-compulsive/depressive makes gloriously anxious mountains of to remind himself of just how hopeless his efforts at living “easy” usually are. The engraved belt buckles, pinned to the walls amidst the larger text pieces, could’ve sprung directly from the sublimely pathetic world of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976–77). They are commemorative tchotchkes of fictional self-help and interest groups like Alice B. Toklas Clam Bake Bake Sale Bake Sale Clam Bake Provincetown 1966 or Westchester County Group Therapy 25th Anniversary Pot-Luck Scarsdale 1972. They are, as my mother would say, Franklin Mint-fancy.

For many people, misery is their lot in life. Cary Leibowitz, however, is that rare miserabilist who has the self-awareness and dexterity of mind to transform his sadness into some of the most thoughtfully conceived comedy out there.