New York

Max Frazee

Susan Schreiber Gallery

Part of the calculated dementedness of the antisitcom Married with Children is the star family’s surname, the same as that of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. What its black humor insinuates is that if psychotic derangement might leave a long and bloody trail of carnage, worse horrors fester within the cocoon of familial normalcy. In stark contrast, Maxx Frazee’s installation, called “Epitaph for Ted,” bluntly exploits Bundy as a reified cult object but offers no such insights.

The mainstay of the exhibit is a series of pastels on Epsom board. These share a common design motif which has no clear connection to the Bundy case: a white ring superimposed over a bold, inverted green V on black. Frazee uses this graphic motif as a background on which to write facts and quotations. Stripped and Left for Predators, 1987–89, features a litany of victims’ first names and what are presumably notebook entries from either a caseworker or from Bundy himself: “Violence is never an end in itself,” “Sex was almost perfunctory.” Frazee’s deployment of text is both vague and didactic; it rarely rises above dutiful recitation. His use of pastels is so lackluster as to seem arbitrary, if not inane. Only by attaching his panels to the wall with drywall screws does he register any cognizance of his chosen materials.

Two other works augment the pastels. Ted Bundy’s Last Day, 1989, is a step-by-step description of Bundy’s electrocution which, as it is written, is too clumsy to sound clinical—Frazee’s unbridled voyeurism ultimately gets the better of his detached pose. The second piece is Untitled, 1990, which comprises a horseshoe-shaped wreath of wilted roses and a narrow, coffinlike crate. The wreath surrounds a frame containing various photos of Bundy above the heavy-handed legend, “Give my love to my family and friends, Ted.” The crate contains tools similar to the ones Bundy used to commit his 50-plus murders. Evidently, the viewer is to be jolted by the realization that the infamous killer used a bucket of plaster or a crowbar just like the buckets of plaster and crowbars available to anyone in any common hardware store.

One or two of the quotes Frazee has taken from Bundy stand out for the way they capture the warped logic of the psychopath, such as this passage included in One Night Stand, 1987–89: “No, they wouldn’t be stereotypes necessarily, but they would be reasonable facsimiles to women as a class. A class not of women per se, but a class that has almost been created through the mythology of women and how they are used as objects.” But Frazee’s fascination with madness and violence is a transparent permutation of, or conflation with, the genius myth, which leads him to conclude that the sheer sensationalism of the killer’s words will make for a powerful artwork. But the terror of a Jim Thompson novel, for example, or the cold realism of a Raymond Pettibone drawing results primarily from a dedication to craft. Poetic condensation is usually produced only through a surplus of labor, and Frazee simply has not made the effort.

John Miller