Critics’ Picks

Suellen Rocca, Chocolate Chip Cookie, 1965, oil on two canvas panels, each 84 x 60".

New York

“What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present”

Matthew Marks Gallery | 502 W. 22nd Street
502 W. 22nd Street
July 8–August 14, 2015

Matthew Marks Gallery | 522 West 22nd Street
522 West 22nd Street
July 8–August 14, 2015

Matthew Marks Gallery | 526 West 22nd Street
526 West 22nd Street
July 8–August 14, 2015

It begins with a darkened room and a gleeful sheer-noise terror from a blank screen—a ghoul running its tendrils up and down musical keys, head thrown back and shredding out its wet, throaty mating call. It’s the 1990s Providence collective Forcefield, of course—audio tracks and a video dispatched straight from some utopian past. The impudence implied by the title of this exhibition of Chicago’s Hairy Who and Bay Area Funk artists, in addition to the freaks and no-goodniks of collectives Destroy All Monsters and Forcefield, is apropos. Then again, any nerves one might bring on board for this show are well ironed out by the latter’s don’t panic room.

With the mood set, amble on over to the other two galleries of paintings, sculptures, shrouds, beautified chairs, prints, drawings, zines, and a small pink plastic purse resembling a hat box for the shrunken among us. Purse Curse, 1968, is one of a few works included by Suellen Rocca, a painter associated with Hairy Who. A larger oil painting by her, Chocolate Chip Cookie, 1965, sticks an unassuming title to a work chock-full of big chip ideas and sweetly endearing imagery rendered in a palette of cocoa, lavender, and mint green. Nearby, fellow Hairy Who-er Gladys Nilsson and it-came-from–San Francisco troll Peter Saul make cartooning as strange as pure abstraction must have looked when it first debuted.

Though the works here tend to hail from the ’60s and ’70s via under-the-radar locales, early works by pivotal figures such as Mike Kelley attest to a slow-burn tension between the mainstream circulation of art objects and the fringes of artistic production and existence. Who needs the other side more?