New York

Wallace & Donohue

Gallery hopping these days can be a little like trying to watch the scrambled signal of a cable-movie channel; the fragments are too distorted in themselves to hold one’s attention, and what they add up to is probably fairly banal anyway. So Joan Wallace and Geralyn Donohue’s highly theatrical and rather fun-loving display of self-critiquing abstract wall constructions seemed to be exceptional—if only by virtue of the fact that it took certain viewers’ suspicions about current art into account.

What they showed here were seven large works, queer combinations of paintings, wooden frameworks, and a variety of gadgets, all from 1988. In each work, one or more “Minimalist” canvases were mounted on or in simple structures made of plywood and wooden two-by-fours that referenced a number of models, from Donald Judd’s boxes to children’s tree-house platforms and unstained wood furniture. Wallace’s (SP)LIT GIRL/BLUE CHAIR. . . and several other pieces incorporated an aggressive strategy—track lights that shone in viewers’ eyes—while at the same time they presented a completely domesticated image. In Donohue’s The Painting Speaks, Sony microphones propped on little plastic stands were placed on a shelf surrounding an imprisoned-looking “Minimalist” panel. When viewers spoke near the work, their voices were amplified through a hidden speaker. Wallace’s Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime? (Shooting the Public) involved a surveillance camera “concealed” in a nook and trained on viewers. Although the camera was connected to a videotape recorder shelved behind the central panel, the lack of a monitor replaced sinister connotations with a jokey personification of the object. If the show’s overall theme of surveillance remained expurgated, at least its come-on wasn’t just a scrim for more revisionist theoretical posturing. (It was probably that too.)

This show begged the moniker “light entertainment.” Certainly it had all the trappings one associates with sharp but insubstantial movies, books, or records: brisk tone, a slight but rounded ambition, a neat and instantly forgettable effect, etc. But it looked a little too much like everything else in the current scene—and in fact played relentlessly with the comic possibilities of this resemblance—so there was an immediate problem just focusing one’s eyes on it. Luckily its invitation was more open-ended than some in the genre, suggesting that its fashionable appearance was less crucial than Wallace & Donohue’s request to form an idiosyncratic, possibly lasting, relationship to art.

Dennis Cooper