Critics’ Picks

Chihcheng Peng, Shadow Your Man, 2007, still from a black-and-white video, 11 minutes 8 seconds.

New York

“Funny Not Funny”

Bellwether
134 Tenth Avenue
November 20 - January 17

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die,” Mel Brooks once noted. Taking a contrarian stance, the nineteen artists in this exhibition, curated by the gallery’s Becky Smith and Allison Kave, present gags, gaffes, and guffaws that combine humor and empathy. At first glance, Sir Huge Cock, 2004, Everest Hall’s lovingly rendered photorealist painting of a discarded snapshot depicting a skinny dweeb grinning with a yellow balloon twisted so as to justify his titular nickname, looks like a damning reminder of the potential permanence of shameful photographs. But his impeccable skill summons the viewer’s empathy for the poor poindexter’s goofy gesture, as the kid comes to personify our unfortunate and regrettable adolescent misadventures. In contrast, the congested, pretentious, but essentially endearing character whom Tamy Ben-Tor brilliantly portrays in her video, Normal, 2006, is a recognizable figure of fun, acting far too severe. In a similar vein, video artist Chihcheng Peng presents a digitally tweaked version of Buster Keaton’s famed Sherlock Jr. (1924), in which Keaton plays a detective earnestly mimicking every gesture and move made by his mark. Everyday but less attainable role models are followed and mocked by Jesse Finley Reed in 100 of THEM, 2008, an installation of one hundred prints depicting glowing heterosexual couples culled from movie posters, ads, and other sources. Reed’s sympathy for those feeling the sting of the distance between their own troubled romantic reality and glossy ideals demonstrates that humor can be serious business.