New York

Ed Mcgowin

Brooks Jackson Gallery Lolas

The iconographical motifs in Ed Mcgowin’s “Country Western Narrative” are the hat, the car, the bottle, the bed, the lamp, the table and the boot. These homely items come together under one roof, so to speak: the main attraction of the show was a 10-foot-high house of galvanized steel. This is in keeping with the latest sculptural mode: an almost ridiculous number of artists have been building little houses recently, enough to last the decade. An acquaintance of mine refers to the homes as “fuck houses”: artists reaching back into their childhoods, re-creating those hideaways where they had “played house,” i.e. explored sex, and externalized sexual roles.

Just so this won’t seem such a peculiar theory of housemaking, let’s look at a few details in McGowin’s. Small cutout sections in his steel house allow the viewer to peer through to the inside. The cut-outs are exactly like peepholes, and we are made voyeurs. Inside this abode we see a Surrealist collage of bedroom furniture and empty liquor bottles, lots of them. The peepholes are covered with red glass, giving the scene a hyped-up decadence, a tabooed dirtiness. The items on McGowin’s domestic list are turned into sexual paraphernalia. The raunchy identification of sex and booze and cars and beds cannot be unintentional. The explicit meaning; as garnered from the work’s title, is that this could stand for the essence of country western “style”—intimations of violence, sexual repression and misogyny. It is upsetting that the humble, innocent objects are turned into charged subjects of vulgar generality, forced to do McGowin’s dirty work.

Each icon is done up in a little song-and-dance airbrushed ink drawing. The drawing is framed by a steel ribbon cut out to follow the outline of the object. (These shapes are followed through to the house; the cut-out peepholes describe the outlines of the objects too.) McGowin certainly knows what he’s doing technically, and the drawings look really flashy. The icons fare much better for being isolated from one another on the wall. (Stuck together as they are in the house, meanings collide with each other at an uncontrolled rate.) The problem becomes one of relative dexterity: McGowin’s isolated boot and bottle and car, etc., cannot be compared with what Oldenburg and Dine do with similar material. And this is where we are clued into another “trend,” which is equally as suspicious as the new taste for home-making. The difference between Pop and the new stuff is that the latter is being labeled “narrative.” This word has come in for some heavy abuse lately, and its meaning has degenerated as almost every word does in the art world when borrowed from another discipline. Narrative now means anything following anything else in time. Which, of course, means everything. And nothing. As a description, it is functionally useless. I think I understand the moral of McGowin’s story, and I don’t like it.

Jeff Perrone