Provincetown

Mimi Gross

David Brown Gallery

Long known for her collaborative installations with ex-husband Red Grooms and as the daughter of sculptor Chaim Gross, Mimi Gross has come into her own in an exhibition of six constructed reliefs and one large drawing. The large painted-wood triptych, Parnassus, after Raphael, 1986, is a playful parody of Raphael’s famous Vatican fresco and contains 26 individuated figures divided into three separately constructed groups. With her witty and theatrical touch, Gross replaces Raphael’s soft elegance, atmospheric perspective, and academicism with her own educated roughness of proportion, scale, style, and medium. She transforms tightly-painted acanthus laurels into pointed diadems that suggest the Statue of Liberty’s spiky crown, and loosens the painting style to let the wood-grain base show through. Her characters are hinged together with screws; they resemble puppets used in animation. Separately constructed hinged arms add a sense of spatial ambiguity and mobility to the bodies of a number of characters.

Falls the Shadow, 1988, is the title of a powerful drawing and relief which pay subtle homage to a number of Gross’ friends who have been stricken with AIDS. In drawing and relief, an idealized group of male bathers, based on Cézanne, relax on the sands of Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. The large pastel-crayon-and-gouache drawing is a study for the more compact and simplified relief. Two closely knit groups of bathers rest on beach blankets, while a single bather stretches his arms above his head in an athletic gesture. In the distance, three bathers fold a blanket that oddly suggests a shroud. The sky is stormy, and two somber blue birds appear perched in the upper-left-hand corner. Below the spatially complex composition, Gross has inscribed a tribute in longhand to seven male friends. In these personal reflections on life and loss, Gross reveals a new formalism, seriousness, and strength of design.

The corresponding painted-wood-and-aluminum relief is more simplified (Gross has eliminated birds, sand, and sky) and spatially intriguing than the study. The composition of cut-out figures is divided into two separately hung groups that are supported by aluminum backings. The figures are painted on flat wood cutouts in appropriately muted browns, blues, ochers, and yellow; they are often layered and glued together so that the heads, arms, legs, and bodies are on separate, deep planes. Gross has placed an open, painted aluminum book in the hands of one of the central bathers; on it, she has inscribed the words “falls the shadow,” a phrase that recurs in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men.” (“Between the desire and the spasm / Between the potency and the existence / Between the essence and the descent / Falls the shadow”). Here, the artist has transported her ailing and deceased friends to the warm, sunny sands of her beloved Provincetown. This dreamlike fantasy recalls the tubular figures of Fernand Léger, and shows Gross moving away from the flat frontal images of her past work and toward a more flexible, environmental sculpture.

Francine A. Koslow