New York

Ted Rosenthal

Salvatore Ala Gallery

Ted Rosenthal received some notoriety a few years back with his traffic-halting, bomb-squad-baiting prank of welding fake time bombs (fire extinguisher canisters with clocks) to street signs around lower Manhattan. As far as anyone knows, he has not pulled any stunts like that since, but as his latest sculptures of cut, welded, and painted steel show, he has hardly lost his strange sense of humor. In his recent work Rosenthal gives his wildest fantasies free rein. From small wall sculptures to elaborate freestanding behemoths, his work demonstrates a slickness of design and execution in contrast to the amusing scrap-heap qualities that he once relied on in pursuing his method of creative spontaneity. In changing his process Rosenthal has expanded his visual possibilities, while sacrificing the associative meanings attached to the materials he used earlier.

Rosenthal’s new vocabulary is accompanied by the extended ambition of his vision—which, remarkably, has not grown ponderous in its results, but has remained fresh and spritely. Brightly painted and elegantly rococo in their flourishes, Rosenthal’s sculptures look as cute and spunky as they act naive. The energy that erupts from this art is carried by an extroverted sense of the make-believe. The regression fits Rosenthal well and he comes out looking the ingenue, blessed with the secret of youth in a transgression so childishly pure that it is rather akin to precociousness. Yet from this artist as the naughty boy of extended adolescence comes a controlled madness that is clever and calculating in the way it jumps out to scare and disgust its audience. But for all the terror the whirling fans and gurgling fountains of blood may evoke, the real aura of evil emanates from deep within the artist. The demons in Rosenthal’s art are the same black forces buried in the psyche of America.

Like a number of other similarly alienated young artists (and musicians) today, Rosenthal reveres many a bogeyman that society loathes, and can even exalt them in mock adulation. By offending accepted standards of decency in his art, Rosenthal can try to force people to recognize the fear and hatred we are breeding. By the same token, in You Crack Me Up, 1986, Rosenthal recognizes the “crack crisis” as a joke, a piece of election-year propaganda meant not to solve the pertinent problems but to serve as a smokescreen for the issues and to present the victims as culprits. Yet for all Rosenthal’s phantasmagoria, he still revels in the mundane, because his hell’s the same as everyone else’s, and the everyday slapstick fun is just part of our theater of cruelty.

Carlo McCormick