New York

Bill Beckley

John Gibson Gallery

Narrative artist Bill Beckley has bravely stuck himself with a stingier aspect of Pop style, namely emblem-making and punchline icons. The cheesiest of the multipaneled photographic works he showed in the main room of the Gibson Gallery short the circuit of popular source and art use. I mean they are uncomfortably close to what is apparently their models—lush, slick color advertisements, and the sophisticated gag photos in Esquire and The National Lampoon.

Beckley makes jokes about other artists: Acconci (a photo with bites taken out of it), Dibbets (a golf course panorama which includes a photo of a divot), Newman (single line images through colored fields), and Oldenburg (two “street chicks,” one revealing her crotch, the other her breast). These jokes are like the simple ironies about illusionism and abstract painting invoked by more than a few photo-Realists hard up for content.

Still, Beckley manages in other works to deal inventively with his main business—story-telling. In the three blown-up texts in the gallery’s back room, what begins as an innocuous tale is gradually infused with explicitly described sexual incident. Sex is frequently injected non sequitur like that in hastily written porno books. But in some sense, Beckley’s dirty stories relate as well to the way a few of his narrative photo series are disordered by the inclusion of a dissimilar image.

In Beckley’s pratfall piece, photographs of footprints on the floor indicate a normal stride which becomes disordered after encountering a color photo of a banana peel. In a work based on the Little Miss Muffet rhyme, a series of identical photos of a woman eating at a table are lined up on the wall. After a photo of a long-legged spider, the images of the woman are more widely spaced. The placement of the photos indicates that she’s doing the same thing but slowing down. She continues to eat, but she’s apprehensive.

Alan Moore