New York

Arch Connelly

Charles Cowles Gallery

In these one-man shows, Arch Connelly placed his underground, nearly cultish work in the context and history of established galleries that have been receptive to art that has pioneered mannerisms of “bad taste.” Since his first shows, at Artists Space in 1980 and Fun Gallery in 1981, Connelly has been perceived as a particularly “out there” craftsman of New Wave glitz, as well as, perhaps, the heir apparent of a more entrenched high-camp style in American art. His relation to kitsch is rooted in an esthetic rebellion against the authoritarianism of “high art.” However, Connelly’s style of indulgence in his paintings, sculptures, and gouaches is trademark. It is his vision. Recognizable features of his oeuvre include heavy encrustations of faux pearls and gems or pennies and renditions of a rocky, sunset-streaked mountainscape. The gawdy fake jewelry he salvages, from bracelets to necklaces to belts, and now extending to chains painted in metallic descriptions of gold and silver, ends up as loops dripping down from the art. Another new texture in his vengefully amateurish tribute to homemade design ideas, and to the classes that the “higher classes” look down upon, is his tacky addition of painted broken eggshells.

Connelly’s satirical representations of profanely false descriptions of the idyllic are not so much playful as they are ironic gestures of absurd artistic extremes troubled by the terms of what is “natural.” His tastefully rendered imitations of what are considered authentic beauty and inspiration are pointedly deliberate, both in the materials he uses and the images he constructs. This is to show up definitions of the natural as pure artifice. In other words, he infects “the real” through esthetic simulacra, reducing, say, a landscape to a token of generic picturesque ornamentation. Connelly does not merely ape nature in his currency of falsification; he adapts all his manmade artifacts to an innate compositional naturalism. The unrelenting architecture that stamps the print of civilization on the face of Connelly’s world grows in the forms of leaves, stars, spiderwebs, and cliffs. Diametric opposites of purity and disillusion fight for the soul of the same haunted beast—the artwork. Just as Connelly risks sinking in the decadence of kitsch, he embraces paradise before it was lost. The imagery is a bit like D. H. Lawrence’s earth, a metaphor for desire and guilt. There is an undeniable eroticism in Connelly’s garden of earthly delights, but I’m not sure if it is the original or the body double that is so tempting.

Carlo McCormick