New York

Kim MacConnel

Holly Solomon Gallery

Kim MacConnel’s work is supposedly about the “issue of decoration.” It is true that if I had been blindfolded, given a sedative, and taken to the gallery, and if the lights had been low and people had been standing around in clusters and music was playing, when the blindfold was taken off, I would probably have been certain that I was at Danceteria or some other new wave nightclub and that it was somewhere between 1981 and 1983, somewhere between 5 and 6 A.M.

MacConnel’s work is also meant to have something to do with Matisse. It had, maybe, once, but it doesn’t have. Once Matisse and MacConnel had in common the potential to be drapes or a sport shirt. MacConnel is no longer a threat to Lilly Pulitzer. Matisse is hanging in there.

Roy Lichtenstein? No. Mondrian colors, Mr. Bill esthetic. MacConnel has narrowed his aim. Once, perhaps, there was subversive decoration. Now the decoration itself has been subverted.

What’s left, it seems, is an attempt to decamp camp, to remove, through image overkill, the humorous detachment with which ’50s campy design and on-the-brink frivolity are regarded. MacConnel seems to be retroactively underlining the sinister forebodings of ’50s naiveté, and that would seem an entirely gratuitous task at this point. There’s an almost knee-jerk free-associative force field here, linking Jayne Mansfield with dirty-bomb-testing in the atmosphere, Ike with kidney-shaped anything, turquoise and pink and gray with a failed futurism. The esthetic was burned down a long time ago and after that all taste for it was flailed out of us by the new wave esthetic in which harmless ’50s kitsch was reloaded with sinister vibe.

These MacConnel paintings look like ’50s summer tablecloths of a commercial bohemian bent, like poodle martini-cocktail napkins, but they’re more overdone, chock full of cheap images of leisure-bound negligence, fake naiveté, and relaxation atrocities. One by one the images are harmless, but in proximity they’re a reactor. I’m bored with having those strings pulled. There was a genuine naiveté, although not necessarily the intended naiveté, in the designs MacConnel parodies; although its exhumers question it, overload it, and stack the deck, it remains untouchable in time, perhaps even acquiring a certain new plucky charm, the charm of the under-poodle.

If these unstretched canvases were actual tablecloths, slightly less image heavy, and a little more Matisse or Pop Fauve colored, then it might be fun to have them around for a week by the pool, but as canvases they’re like decor that has lingered too long in a trendy new wave club. The dynamics of retroprogress are complex and the same pop toxemia images that worked so well last week are not getting off this week. Old is getting old again.

Glenn O'Brien