New York

Izhar Patkin

Holly Solomon Gallery

Palagonia, 1990, Izhar Patkin’s installation of paintings, sculpture, and photographs, is characterized by glamorous desolation, by morbidity brought under the rule of the pleasure principle. A quasi-Baroque sculpture which, along with a shopping cart loaded with high-tech gadgetry, provides the exhibition’s focus, constitutes a kind of parable of fallen, or at least tortured, humanity. In a perverse betrayal of Bernini’s Saint Theresa, a putto thrusts a gilded spear towards the heart of a haloed figure writhing in agony. Devilish, music-making revelers with what can only be described as crapulous, carbuncular skin—no doubt the residue of the wax phase of sculpting, which Patkin regards as the process’ most creative moment and calls his “ghosting process”—complete the bizarre scene. A complex parable of ambivalence—of ecstasy and suffering, and their inseparability—the sculpture transcends the usual boundaries of the decorative, expressive, and allegorical. The ghosting process is echoed in a series of perforated grisaille photographs, isolating the sculptures’ various figural components and giving them an uncanny, ghostly effect suggesting a return of his figures to a twilight zone of emotional and physical amorphousness.

The shopping cart, made in collaboration with Nam June Paik, contains a television with a fixed image of the meditating Buddha, in amidst a jumble of electronic junk, and seems to confirm the exhibition’s central contradiction: tranquil transcendence and purposeless horror exist side by side in the cosmos. The cart is covered by a sheltering—from radioactive fallout?—open umbrella, painted black with Oriental characters, alluding to the murky black and white painterly appropriations of Hiroshige’s images of figures in falling rain displayed on an adjacent wall. These works reinvest the concerns Patkin introduced in his Black Paintings, 1985, on rubber curtains. Certainly the same sense of ironical, glitzy theatricality contributes to this exhibition’s appeal.

Patkin’s portentous installation has perhaps as its greatest ambition the reconciliation of process and reproduction—energy and inertia. The photographs and paintings may ultimately be more central than the sculptures that stimulate them, for they begin with a static reproduction and end with an obscure expressive dynamic, which finally seems embedded in the material. In the end, however, it is the materiality of the sculpture that is most hypnotic, by reason of its daring integration of luminosity and pustulation, opposites one rarely sees reconciled in art.

Donald Kuspit