Io Palmer and Modou Dieng

Art Gym
17600 Pacific Highway, BP John, 3rd Floor
November 8, 2009–December 13, 2009

View of “Io Palmer and Modou Dieng,” 2009. From left: Io Palmer, Artstar #4, 2009; Io Palmer, Artstar #3, 2009; Io Palmer, Janitorial Supplies #7, 2009; Io Palmer, Janitorial Supplies #4, 2009.

Io Palmer’s ongoing work Artstars, 2007–, comprises a team of players represented, in absentia, by a collection of white “uniforms” paired with common cleaning tools (mops, brushes, and brooms) that have been radically accessorized with artificial hair, bobby pins, and barrettes, transforming them into radically hirsute tools. The Artstars are Palmer’s Dream Team—heroic amalgamations of the artist’s friends, family members, and sports heroes––and brilliantly synthesize haute couture, feminist art history, professional sports, and domestic servitude.

In the artists’ hands, a plain maid’s smock is sexed up into a flowing linen gown that opens across the gallery floor in a corona of petal-like teardrops. Palmer references labor and women’s work while raising African-American identity politics to glamorous new heights of Jugendstil panache. In one instance, Palmer exhibits a cape made of leather that is covered in bobby pins and patterned after former Detroit Piston Allen Iverson’s cornrows. The piece reads like a chain-mail cuirass lying in wait for its commander.

In the Art Gym’s second gallery, Senegalese artist Modou Dieng exhibits a series of new mixed-media wall works inspired by African cloth, African-American musical history, and sexy Blaxploitation graphics. Dieng works the canvas with a rigorous ease, incorporating vinyl LPs into the work and slathering them with iridescent paint and collage elements. In hello mom, hello dad, 2009, Dieng overlays silk-screened images of Malcolm X with actual albums (and their covers) by Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, and Isaac Hayes. The albums transmit a vibrant, kinetic energy and hark back to Marcel Duchamp’s Rotorelief devices. Yet Dieng takes on the history of the readymade and Pop art with a fresh attitude and finesse.

— Stephanie Snyder