New York

Peter Grass


One of the major trends of 1983, group shows, got even bigger in 1984, spilling out of the galleries and into the nightclubs. It was discovered that most artists have fifty friends to whom they will say “I have an opening” when they have one painting in a show, so one good way to get two thousand thirsty people into a nightclub is to have a rather large group show. I was attending one of these one night at a club called Kamikaze, marveling at how many young artists I don’t know, when one of my companions pointed at some hanging thing and began laughing hard.

“What is it?”

“It’s a fake Keith Haring,” said my friend.

“Oh, that’s a Liz & Val,” I said. “They’ve been doing it for a long time. Where Keith is curved they’re square.”

“But the colors and everything . . . ”

“Yeah. Maybe it’s a movement,” I said.

Months later I walked into this gallery to see the work of Peter Grass. All I knew about the artist was that he once threw a rock at a mockingbird. Sure enough, a movement is attempting to form behind Keith Haring. It’s sort of sneaking up behind him and, one imagines, hoping he doesn’t notice.

Grass draws in white pencil, which looks like chalk, on black panels, sometimes adding smears of the colors of plastic “Realemon” and “Realime.” His compositions are dependent on Haring multiple cartoon figures. His major attempt at variation, aside from shaky draftsmanship, is his use of that old optical illusion in which lines form two sets of images, where the foreground and background are interchangeable depending on the viewer’s focus. Also, in addition to modified Haring iconography there’s some toying with Tibetan patterns and Gumby figures, and the better (or less bad) pictures seem to owe something to James Brown (the painter). Despite their rather portentous titles, attempted charm, and cosmic references, like their dolphins among the saucer people, these things seem ultimately arch and overcalculated. If Haring’s is the radiant child this is the redundant child.

Glenn O’Brien