New York

“Represent, Representation, Representative”

Brooke Alexander Gallery

Most of the young American painters and sculptors included in “Represent . . .” are interested in using representation as a means to an end other than itself, or other than as an excuse for art-historical meanderings. The members of this group of 11 artists may not share an approach to making socially engaged art, but they do share what ranges from a playful wish to a longing to subvert social (and artistic) hypocrisies. In one manner or another, their works address the issue of social violence—and this commonality among their paintings and sculptures is as hazy and difficult as the issue itself.

Peter Nadin, Keith Haring, and, to a lesser extent, Judy Rifka make frenzied, graphic paintings and drawings that are all, in different ways, reminiscent of “graffiti art.” Ultimately their works are humorous, and more celebratory of their graphic styles than of their contents. The more interesting subgroup in “Represent . . .” are those artists afflicted with subversive longing. Richard Bosman, Jenny Holzer, Robert Longo, Walter Robinson, and Mike Glier all share such a desire, in self-consciously ironic manners. The irony in the works of Holzer, Bosman, and Robinson complements their chosen subjects, which are all realizations of social clichés. Bosman, in The Sentence and Worked Over, illustrates what we’ve seen go on in prison cells—that is, what we think we understand from cop movies and TV shows. The effect of these paintings done in a naive style is nasty but comic. So, too, is that of Holzer’s small, framed, painted paragraphs of overused sayings. As with Bosman’s paintings, there is a subtle but nevertheless disconcerting gap between what we might know, from our real-life experience, is being communicated, and the way it is being communicated in Holzer’s wry language. “If you were involved with someone else it would be so much easier. Then I wouldn’t have to feel like I personally failed,” one of her unadorned pictures reads; another, “It takes awhile before you can step over inert bodies and go ahead with what you were trying to do.” Like Laurie Anderson, Holzer has a way of twisting a phrase just slightly askew to show us its illogicality—and its pathos. Walter Robinson’s paintings, which are reminiscent of ’50s movie posters, take the kind of emotional and sexual repression manifest in Holzer’s work one step backward. The Untamed Wives, for example, shows two vacuous-faced, sexy, smiling, half-dressed women about to satisfy a vacuous-faced man. The figures in Robinson’s pictures are composed of hard edges and shiny surfaces, which enhance the subtle brutality of his reading of the relations between men and women.

As tough-minded as Robinson’s works are those of Robert Longo and Mike Glier. Longo’s two large graphite drawings of a man and a woman in black evening clothes, he prone on his back as if shot from the front and she face down as if shot from the back, form the wings of a makeshift triptych with a cast-aluminum image of high-rise buildings as the centerpiece. The humor is campy, but the more durable effect of these Richard Avedonesque casualties and plaque that reeks of corporate power is too cold-blooded to be simply amusing. As in Mike Glier’s Atlanta 1—7, a collection of seven oil-stick drawings of the smiling faces of black children grouped around a large drawing of a smiling black boy, we are not quite certain how we should react, which is to the credit of Longo and Glier. Like Holzer, Robinson, and Bosman, Longo and Glier are not simply making pretty or ugly pictures; in questioning “representation” they are turning the limitations of images into strengths.

Joan Casademont