Critics’ Picks

View of “Carl Ostendarp: Fat Cakes/Myopic Void,” 2012.

Ithaca

Carl Ostendarp

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
Cornell University, 114 Central Avenue
January 27–March 25, 2012

In subversive institutional interventions, Carl Ostendarp transforms two of the Johnson Museum’s galleries with offbeat art selections, intensely pigmented murals, and pulsing music. Following curatorial incursions like Andy Warhol’s “Raid the Icebox,” 1970, and Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum, 1992, Ostendarp’s installations incorporate—and thereby recontextualize—works from the museum’s collections. The resulting Fat Cakes and Myopic Void (all works 2012) occupy galleries on different floors of the I. M. Pei–designed building, and challenge the site’s material austerity and white walls. Ostendarp’s critique aims beyond physical contexts to challenge modernist metanarratives. With Fat Cakes, he reframes Op, Pop, Abstract Expressionist, and hard-edge prints, and, with Myopic Void, he turns his attention to paintings and sculptures selected from the Johnson’s collections—all in terms of sex, jazz, funk, and psychedelia. These are complex motivations, subcultures, and lifestyles that artists working in past decades often recall in colloquial conversation, but that become whitewashed in formalist discourse. With few women artists featured and most cultural “otherness” found in the music, the visual selections bespeak the hegemonic white American masculinity underlying these GI Bill generations. Ostendarp’s inclusion of works by luminaries and lesser-knowns—John Chamberlain, James Rosenquist, Dan Christensen, Nicholas Krushenick, and their peers—tell of both New York City’s cultural preeminence and a regional museum’s historic biases.

Following the comic biomorphs of Ostendarp’s previously exhibited canvases, Myopic Void’s floor-to-ceiling murals in two pink shades create a womblike space that recalls the world of a John Wesley painting. The lava-lamp lines and hot colors undercut and visually destabilize the paintings. The similar horizon separating the teals of Fat Cakes is less obtrusive at knee height, and appears beneath a crowded installation of prints lined up at eye level. Ostendarp lovingly curates a stoned-guitar and grand-funk-psychedelic sound track for Myopic Void and a soul- and acid-jazz playlist for Fat Cakes (songs from the two genres yield the works’ respective titles). Ostendarp’s mixtapes offer the idea that curating is a common activity, yet he never loses sight of the fact that expert selections, juxtapositions, and well-chosen themes are required for smartly arranging both art and music—and, in his case, for mustering nostalgia for bygone artistic cultures and attitudes.