Critics’ Picks

View of “The Man with the Golden Gun,” 2011.

View of “The Man with the Golden Gun,” 2011.

San Francisco

Mrzyk & Moriceau

Ratio 3
2831a Mission Street
January 7–February 19, 2011

“The Man With The Golden Gun,” the latest exhibition of husband-and-wife team Petra Mrzyk & Jean-François Moriceau, unfolds in the pair’s signature schizophrenic salon style, with a series of meticulous ink-on-paper drawings clustered together according to what seems like an exacting if inscrutable logic. The James Bond reference does little to illuminate the rebuslike arrangements that are juxtaposed against large-scale wall drawings and a looping video piece—though perhaps it foregrounds the question of style. Indeed, the work is largely indebted to the whimsy and starkness of 1960s graphic design; it would be tempting to say the pieces remain lacquered in that slickness, except that on sustained perusal these clean lines seem to give way to something more chaotic.

As with their previous efforts, the duo here dexterously deploy popular idioms and icons less as references than as lures. The reoccurring elements of trompe l’oeil beckon with rabbit hole–like appeal from an unsettling topography that’s not unlike The Far Side via Magritte. The work becomes most compelling as it moves beyond visual puns and dark humor to slightly more sinister terrain, while mining the history of drawing. Thus, we also encounter traces of eighteenth-century silhouettes, the indeterminate orifices of Unica Zürn, and the obsessive line work of Hans Prinzhorn’s patients—all in a haphazard mix that refuses facile distinctions between art and commerce. By aligning the meticulousness of craft with elements of psychopathology, the show also provides an intriguing self-referential twist that can be seen, for instance, in the repeated motifs of peering wolves that is perhaps a nod to Freud’s Wolf Man—but also in the works’ engagement with the fallibility of perception. This comes across most clearly in a series of masks cut from plastic. Lined up in a series on a narrow shelf, they read like three-dimensional Rorschachs that invariably mirror the precarious nature of looking.