New York


Hal Bromm Gallery

Call it rumpus room art. Presiding was Martin Wong’s Lower East Side “street of life,” its grave clarity like a blistering consciousness full of cosmic portents. But of course it’s all ingratiating melodrama. Standing forlornly was one of the aberrant children, Jonathan Ellis’ The Gene Pool Taps Back, 1983. Then there was Keith Haring’s baby Crib, 1981, a kind of “crib” to Haring’s consciousness, brilliantly “retarded” in a way in its endless harping on one note, and certainly an emotional home to far-from-retarded children. The gallery seemed full of wittily arrested developments, of clever visual gossip on “the way things are,” of throwaway art that imagines it packs a treatise in its kibitzing. There were lots of nasty fun, like Debby Davis’ Pig Head, 1983, reminding one of the old Dada general and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; and lots of crazy relatives, as in Judith Glantzman’s archly clumsy/ archaic altar; and of course all of God’s strange little children climbing “the Man,” as Mark Kostabi showed us. It was clearly the children’s hour, and the wonderful toys had a private life of their own—especially when they were all about how Fun City is a farce, as in Rhonda Zwillinger’s “nostalgia altar” and Rebecca Howland’s Real Estate Octopus and Manhattan as a Dead Horse, 1983, a wonderful mixed metaphor that lets the “real truth” about New York hang out. Other toys seemed like everyday fantasy/reality made “real,” like Greer Lankton’s Cookie Puss the Fat Lady, 1982, and Freddy the Skeleton Girl, 1983, John Fekner’s macabre little blackened bric-a-brac, and David Wojnarowicz’s painted garbage-can top, no doubt for percussive use. There was clearly a bit of the “tin drum” mentality here.

If one ever has to be confined, what better place than the art ward? It’s lively, casually therapeutic, and there’s nothing to get intellectual about, no reason to strain our minds. And we can always reminisce about old mediagenic idols like Andy Warhol—Mike Bidlo redid a Before and After (nose job) piece of his from 1961. Art’s a wonderful pasture to put one’s mind and senses out in, a sort of elevating funnies page—a cunning scrambling of reality and its own history. There’s corporate art that narcissistically reflects the corporation’s supposed good looks back to itself, helping create the lie with which it faces the world. But anticorporate rumpus room art, like a mongrel puppy, licks us all over, giving us a laugh about the lousy world. It isn’t exactly Matisse’s eiegant armchair for mind workers, but rather a flophouse bed for us honest toilers. It’s a welcome relief, after all that snobbish transcendence trying to educate us to higher things. Give me folksy low-life art any time; it babies me.

Donald Kuspit