New York

Timothy Woodman

Zabriskie Gallery

“Cute” is the operative adjective for Timothy Woodman’s painted aluminum reliefs, which depict great moments from the Old Testament and American history. Cute relief work is a medium which has been pretty much done to death by Red Grooms, who at least knows how to push the idea to the rowdy, sleazy edge where boyish enthusiasm turns into art historical satire. More recently, Kim MacConnel has shown that there is still some room for grit in the medium. His paper cutout reliefs, with their vivid process colors and slick illustrations of athletic events, suggest a tough, sophisticated alternative to Leroy Neiman gaucherie.

Grooms and MacConnel have both had a lot of fun with vernacular iconography without ever succumbing to its leveling banality. Their knowing, slangy style is dependent on the cultural context of the work. Like a patois which invigorates the language that spawned it, Grooms’ and MacConnel’s liberating creativity demands artistic—if not visionary—interpretation: their work enriches our perception of the world. Woodman’s sculptures are not opinionated: they don’t make an attempt to interpret their subject. Even the cuteness is parasitic.

With their WPA-style figuration, mock-historical subject matter and craftsy execution, Woodman’s reliefs look like they would be more comfortable in the lobby of a George Washington Motor Lodge. His figures are posed and dressed like modish versions of Thomas Hart Benton’s working-class heroes. Woodman’s folksy limbo, rendered with a palette of dusty colors, is so mindlessly nonchalant, so gratuitously nostalgic, that the rote selection of subject matter becomes almost insufferably fatuous. Here and there, smaller pieces give some vague indication of intellectual tension (a blind woman being led across the street is about as provocative as the images get), but overall the work suffers from a kind of eagerness to please that is alternately obsequious and patronizing.

Richard Flood