Critics’ Picks

Frank Magnotta, El Matador, 2008, graphite on paper, 60 x 77".

New York

Frank Magnotta

Derek Eller Gallery
300 Broome Street
May 21–June 27

At first glance, Frank Magnotta’s work is reminiscent of Paul Noble’s, consisting of monumentally scaled graphite drawings that depict surreal architectural structures, rendered with an attention to detail that’s both fastidious and witty. But if Noble’s lewdly tumescent constructions suggest a landscape of barely contained libidinal impulses, then Magnotta’s speak to an alternative, perhaps truer American unconscious––the hallucinatory rush of corporate logos that daily crowd our vision. In preparing his drawings, Magnotta reimagines familiar emblems as three-dimensional objects with volume, texture, and heft. The MTV logo is transformed into a row of white molars, recalling ominous illustrations at a dentist’s office, and the Olympic rings thicken into a stack of interlocking oil barrels. Magnotta then assembles these invented objects into ungainly constructions—alternately of buildings and of some uncanny confusion of architectural support and living tissue. A display of virtuoso draftsmanship and procedural rigor, the resulting drawings offer a fluid interchange between the recognizable and the repulsive. For instance, in El Matador, 2008, a ragged banner for the eponymous record company helms the body of a woolly beast overburdened with orifices and out-of-place appendages. Some references are specific and personal—in one work, Magnotta pulls source material from the advertisements in a single issue of USA Today, and another evokes signage of his hometown Grand Rapids, Michigan—but really these symbols are the primal totems of corporate globalism. Magnotta’s baroque pencil work is a grim but ebullient concession to the contemporary era: Maybe there once was a time when our dreams were all Mae West and melted clocks, but today our sleep is more likely troubled by advertisements for Viagra and the latest sales at the local Best Buy.