New York

Christopher Lucas

Jack Tilton Gallery

Recently I saw a documentary on PBS about a wonderful tribe in the Amazon which is holding its own against the Brazilians. The tribe knows what’s out there, they know they don’t want it, they are not optimistic about their survival, but they are still here. They hold off death through progress by practicing their rituals, playing their magic flutes, and constructing images of the gods and feeding them.

The narrator of the documentary said that the gods were angered if their images weren’t fed, and I began wondering about all the unfed gods—their feeders dead, their images fallen into the hands of curators and decorators. Are they angry about their magic flutes being kept in glass cases, about their unwhirled bull-roarers? Christopher Lucas’ show reminded me of this fetish problem. His pieces are like remedial fetishes, corrective idols, icons of refuge for the displaced divinities. There must be thousands of hungry tribal divinities roaming around Manhattan. Perhaps some of them found a home in this show.

Lucas paints on paper, canvas, and objects. The paintings on paper look like Japanese ideograms incorporating slang and neologisms, perhaps jotting down the unspeakable or noting the unknown. There were quite a few crucifixes in the show, attached to larger works or on their own; being pointed on the bottom, they look as if they were made for staking vampires, but then capital-punishment crosses were probably pointed like this. They are made of white tile like bathroom tile, cut in various sizes. In Moribund, 1983, Christ, or whoever the victim is, looks like Superman being hung from pulleys. Another crucifix has no victim image, but the surface is marked with three black tiles that look like piano keys. On the side of this cross are yellowed newspaper columns of New York Stock Exchange quotations.

Politician, 1983, is a tough white-on-black drawing of a skull and bones and a hammer and sickle. The images are reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s fascist skulls and communist sickles, but here the images are put together: the skull looks hammered and sickled, the tools look retired. The crossbones are claw bones.

Untitled, 1983? Well, let me guess. There’s a plaster head with a hole in it mounted on plywood with a hole in it. The head has an apple-red cloth around it. Under Lucas’ signature and date there’s some script that seems to read “William S. Burroughs.” This must be the Mrs. Burroughs fetish, a gossip fetish, amusing but a little tasteless to the savage sensibility.

All in all Lucas’ work is lean and hungry, not horny. It’s not beautiful but it’s interesting as speculative diagrams, it’s not particularly attractive but it gets attached and it works as urban fetish.

Glenn O’Brien