New York

Izhar Patkin

Holly Solomon Gallery

Izhar Patkin parades the pompous fashions of our artistic decadence as if they were parodic figures, like corn-media dell’arte characters. Culture has been clad in the same sort of esthetic vestments for so long now that the fabric of Beauty is but a musty, tattered heirloom. The garments of cultural respectability have indeed worn so thin that their transparency reveals to us their luxurious wealth and feeble condition. The luxuriousness apparent in Patkin’s show, entitled “Five-Piece Suit,” remained ambiguously double-edged throughout. At issue for the viewer was whether the art was beautiful or ugly. However, the questions surrounding this conundrum are more significant than that of mere taste. The esthetic and social ambivalence in Patkin’s art exudes a sort of sickly charm in which the distinctions between kitsch and authenticity, highbrow and lowbrow, purity and perversion, comedy and tragedy are all but entirely muddled.

Perhaps the most jarring effect in Patkin’s show was its outlandish sense of transgression. This craft of deliberate vulgarity is one that he has already spent much time developing in his still young career. As a kind of resistance to the traditional separation of the art object from the realm of everyday existence, Patkin has developed his own hybrid media that resonate, in surface or form, as social objects. In his paintings on wire-mesh screens, which he makes by rubbing oilstick through the backs of metal screens, the surface produced by this process has the texture of carpeting, as in Black Lotus, Blue Magnolia and Next Stop China, both 1987. In works such as Tatting, 1983, and Sitting Angel, 1987, Patkin takes photostat images of traditional “Early American”–style interiors and decorates them with actual embroidered motifs and electric pin lights. These works take off on the kitschiness of needlepoint—and on Americana in general—and, less ironically, on the textiles of Patkin’s own Middle Eastern heritage. His stencil paintings on Neoprene curtains—the one shown here was Stairway to Paradise, 1987—similarly allude to the emotionally charged but frequently overlooked power of textiles and to various icons of domestic culture in Western civilization. The curtain also invokes the aura of theatricality that permeates Patkin’s unnervingly manneristic installations, and his choice of black rubber further adds to the fetishistic feeling that is everpresent (yet never obvious) in his art.

In front of Stairway to Paradise were three demented-looking wax-covered figurines, done in 1984 and 1987, displayed together with miniature dioramas on three graduated benches. These pieces, like a bizarre form of memento mori, transform the ordinary into the morbid, and they are among the strongest and most disturbing of Patkin’s oeuvre. Although they possess the same depraved energy as his black rubber curtains, they surpass them in the desperateness of their metaphor. Overall, despite cute, funny, and even resplendent works, the show had an ultimately chilling effect, permeated as it was by the oppressive breath of the decadence, claustrophobia, and physical and psychic illness in our fin de siècle culture.

Carlo McCormick