New York

Kiely Jenkins

Fun Gallery

In the recent past the history of “animal art” has been one of singular, eccentric modes, ranging from Nancy Graves’ anthropological camels through William Wegman’s conceptual vaudeville with his late canine partner, Man Ray, to Hermann Nitsch’s “meat orgy” performances and Susan Rothenberg’s neomythic, cave painting-like horses. Typical of a younger sensibility, Kiely Jenkins opts instead to ring changes on the venerable category of the cartoon animal.

Jenkins set up part of the gallery as a fake “trophy’’ room complete with false paneling, electric-blue rug, plastic chairs, and a sappy Muzak-y sound track. Placed on similarly pseudosculptural pedestals (plywood topped with Astroturf) were more or less life-size piaster sculptures of “Poopsie,” a punk-pink poodle; “Duke,” a drooling Great Dane; “Spike,” a butch bulldog; and “Polly,” a cross-beaked parrot. Except for their cartoon-goofy expressions, these urban beasties, cross-eyed and drunk/hung over, are fairly realistically modeled, and they evoke the same double take that such work as Duane Hanson’s does: admiration for the technical skill involved, and for the decision to apply it to these unlikely objects, and some knowing laughs at the wit with which that expertise is employed. However, because these “trophies” are animals instead of humans—and domestic ones at that—we are more free both to laugh at them outright and to like them, just as we have always responded to our favorite cartoon creatures. Think of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and of the slapstick morality plays enacted every sixty seconds in their cartoons, and you have some of the mood of these works.

A more biting statement is put forth in Jenkins’ rec room tableau Lake Flaccid, 1985. Above a fake fireplace a diorama depicts a polluted underwater environment complete with sewer-pipe outlet, beer cans and old tires, sludgy mud, and hung-over fish. Here Jenkins’ satire is as trenchant as it is hilarious. That the whole bolus is vital to his best beyond-cute effects is seen in the companion room, Hall of Shame, 1985, which presents comic busts of Mayor Ed Koch, singer Barry Manilow, and promoter Don King. Aside from the oddity of Jenkins’ selection of targets, these human “trophies’’ are neither stinging enough as caricatures to carry a knockout parodistic punch nor merely silly enough to be enjoyably stupid. If Jenkins’ show were an animated cartoon, Hall of Shame would be a background for the capers of his extraordinary pets.

John Howell