New York

Eric Bainbridge

Salvatore Ala Gallery

In the children’s game “Telephone,” one child whispers a story into the ear of the child sitting next to him, who then whispers the story into the ear of the child next to him, and so on. The game’s payoff comes when the last child gets up and tells his version of the story aloud, much to the amusement and delight of the other kids, whose short attention-spans and infinite imaginations make for a dazzling display of kiddie revisionism. The game is also an exercise in the creation of a hyperfiction: a larger-than-life, mannered rendering of the banal.

Eric Bainbridge’s art is like a physical rendering of the game. His world is one in which a familiar form—a pipe holder, a doorstopper, or a corkscrew—enters on one side and, through the devices of imagination, exaggeration, and a bit of sinister humor, comes out on the other side grand, frightening, and a bit obnoxious. Bainbridge’s obvious, obtuse, over-the-top “fun-fur” sculptures and paintings have the look of an art school student’s attempt to remake the world in the face of art. It’s as if he says to himself, “Here, let’s take this little tchatchke and make it 20 times its original size, in the manner of Henry Moore!” The artist combines high and low culture, not in an effort to raise the latter’s standing, nor in an effort to lower the former’s, but just to knock the wind out of both of them. What he really has going for him is an outright refusal to give reverence to any form, and it is this rebellious quality that makes these objects at once amusing and annoying.

Portrait of the Artist as Tommy Cavendish, 1987, is an acrylic on fur painting with a bold red stripe and gold letters that spell out the artist’s name, cut-up and scrambled, in six equal, yet mixed-up parts. Bainbridge slaps the hands of the deconstructionists, whose current fashion it is to chop everything up in the name of waging yet another war against the painting and its future. This piece is the standout work in the show, which is a surprise considering that Bainbridge’s paintings have never realized the dynamic force of his sculpture. Other works succeed in jabbing fun at various icons and movements, not the least of which is British sculpture and its dour-faced sobriety. These silly, funny forms recall strewn toys in a child’s room, or a father’s kitsch pipe rest; they tear away the veneer of seriousness from art and its makers.

Bainbridge doesn’t use fur the way Meret Oppenheim did with her famous teacup, as a way of conjoining two elements which don’t belong together, but as an exposure of the true nature of the fraud; his use of fabrics in animal skin patterns (ocelot, tiger, leopard, and lion) and of unlikely fashion-fur colors such as violet, light pink, turquoise, and bright orange, highlight their improper placement in the world of the real. His sickly surfaces call attention to the works’ fraudulent nature, and oh, what he does to those surfaces; they are plastered with dried glue, old staples, bent nails, and other gop, suggesting a slobbering child really having a good time at something.

In Eric Bainbridge’s museum of the fake, all renderings of the real turn in on themselves to suggest the powerlessness of the artisan at this point in art history.

Christian Leigh