New York

Stephen Lack

Gracie Mansion Gallery

Paintings, like people, had better be smart if they aren’t beautiful. Then again, there’s the old expression that nobody likes a smart ass.

To me Stephen Lack’s paintings here, all 1983, are smart-ass paintings. They certainly aren’t beautiful—but I don’t think they know it. They have the vain vanity of a bad drag queen.

Standing in a gallery in a neighborhood where art galleries are starting to push out shooting galleries, I felt like someone in “Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies.” I’m taking notes and an East Village Idiot comes up and asks me if I’m an art critic. I tell him I’m a sportswriter down on my luck and he believes me. I’m thinking something like how can anybody present such bad drawings in such bad colors and this guy says—“God, doesn’t this remind you of Delacroix?”

Sid Delacroix? Norm Delacroix?

Two suntanned-in-December people come in and walk around in matching minks. Man: “This one looks like a de Kooning.” Woman (with a wrist-flick of dismissal): “Who wants it to look like de Kooning?”

To get away with bad drawing or para-primitivism or whatever you call this expulsionistic trend you have to have at least one of two things and preferably both—an attractive palette and a sense of humor. When I was very young my mother told me that green and blue don’t go together and I never even suspected she was right until I saw Lack’s picture Absolutely Nobody.

I still like green and blue, but I will never like the colors, alone or in combo, of Get in the Car Old Man. Here’s an ugly smear of ugly colors—scientifically proven ugly colors: industrial avocado, institutional mustard, inorganic lemon. Dripping yet, like bug blood.

So anything this ugly had better be a laugh riot, right? But this stuff is subcunningly arch at best, gaily insensitive and glibly cruel at worst. Like Your Parents Get the News That You Are Dead, which is cleverly framed in ripped upholstery. Or Hit and Run, Youth Found Slain, and Teenage Drug Bust. I mean, those phrases just aren’t hilarious enough to carry a painting, are they?

I think the idea is Fun With Sickness. Maybe you have to be sick already. I’m either too sick or not sick enough. Nobody likes a smart ass, except a pretty one maybe. This ain’t that.

Glenn O'Brien

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