New York

Ida Applebroog

Printed Matter Windows

Was it Robert Motherwell who said he wanted to make paintings that would be windows on the world? His “Open” series certainly establishes the painting-as-window analogy, but it’s hardly new to art: common to some Quattrocento paintings, Dutch vanitas of the 17th century and American 19th-century trompe l’oeil is the use of a window as framing device to interior action. Windows are back again, but not as an analogy; rather as a method of display. Printed Matter, the artists’ book emporium, inaugurated its window dressing a few months ago, as did The New Museum and the Monique Knowlton Gallery (in the case of Knowlton, she rented window space from the Westbury Hotel to take advantage of the heavy industry of window-shopping on Upper Madison). Other galleries, notably Holly Solomon, have long used windows as a lure.

The practice of window-watching for art is related to window-shopping for fashion. Did Lynn Hershman’s Bonwit Teller windows a few years back encourage this association? These picture windows have some interesting side effects: they play off of art-as-commodity and art-as-stage-set because of their modes of presentation. But the best side effect is that of an ongoing form of street art, which viewers can look at without having to go into an overheated gallery and take their coats off. The art objects become part of the urban landscape rather than decorous objects inside what Brian O’Doherty calls “the white cube” of a modernist gallery space.

Ida Applebroog’s work has long been concerned with aspects of voyeurism relating both to the spectators of a staged event and to the viewer intruding on a private act. Her book-works (she mails books to a selected 500, the artworld equivalent of the Social Register) are images of personal and interpersonal debacles—a woman confessing to a man who listens but doesn’t hear, a solitary man reaching to the vacant adjacent pillow to find the empty bed blues—which are framed by curtains like those draping any proscenium. Applebroog’s recent variations on the theme of incompatibility are even more Brechtian—as though the curtain weren’t distancing enough—because she adds a half-drawn blind in front of the curtains, making viewers all the more aware of their intrusion.

This is perfect work for the large windows of Printed Matter (and since Applebroog’s tomes are sold inside, doubly appropriate) because of its reference to looking in a window. You feel like the singer of “Silhouettes on the Shade” or the eponymous character in John Carpenter’s telefilm, “Somebody’s Watching Me” because Applebroog makes you privy to an intimacy that is intentionally becoming spectacle. So there’s an embarassment—even though the images are cartoonlike (red pigment on rhoplex)—the feeling is that you’re watching something you shouldn’t be, but there is also the captivating quality of a private soap opera, one that Procter & Gamble hasn’t thought to sponsor. She entraps viewers in a voluntary naughtiness: we know we’re given permission to look in shop windows, but these windows are transformed into those of a private dwelling, so we’re not supposed to look. At night, Printed Matter’s windows are backlit, furthering the impression of a domicile rather than a commercial space, and burglar-proof gates are drawn, alluding creepily to the private prison to which Applebroog’s characters seem confined.

Ironically, Applebroog’s windows are really mirrors, reflecting the customs and attitudes of the observer more than revealing anything about the characters depicted. More like sudden deaths than imitations-of-life (in French they say nature morte; in English we say still-life), these images speak of frozen gestures and muteness.

I remember seeing an Applebroog manuscript, a rhoplex series in a group show at Hal Bromm’s, where a woman in bed looks at her disrobing partner. The caption: “I threw it away.” A few frames later: “Sure I’m Sure.” I was sure she threw away a key, his wallet, some important document. My friend was sure she threw away her diaphragm. The double-edges and double-entendres of Applebroog’s work are low humor/high seriousness, intruder/intruded upon. Her work always reminds me of the punchline to the joke about the six-year old prodigy who’s never spoken but, one morning, while reading Hegel at the breakfast table, breaks the silence by asking her mom to put some more sugar in the hot chocolate. “YOU’VE SPOKEN!” ejaculates the astonished mother, “Why have you never spoken before?” The kid shrugs, “Up until now everything’s been all right.”

Carrie Rickey