John Scott

Carmen Lamanna Gallery

The “hand” is held in low regard in progressive circles these days. Though John Scott made his reputation exhibiting robust, tarry drawings that evoke the violence of contemporary life, in this show he seems to have yielded to fashion. The works are all custom-fabricated or altered objects, more in the spirit of Hans Haacke than of Max Beckmann or Asger Jorn. The one exception is a piece entitled Selbst (Self; all works 1989), in which an announcement for Scott’s show bearing a patch of his own skin tattooed with three roses and a number is enshrined in a jewelry display case. Though Scott’s self-mutilation shares something with the celebrated actions by Yves Klein, Vito Acconci and Chris Burden, the dexterity and expressive economy that formerly enabled him to render terrible facts in a manner that shaded them with humor without minimizing their gravity is less in evidence. Here the parallel the title proposes between the artist’s fate and that of death-camp victims is distastefully expedient.

The imagined glamour of violence and the sublimated violence of glamour are Scott’s new themes. Understood as the display of enviable privilege, glamour has an obviously aggressive component. If we consider how many of the trivial choices offered by media-driven society are symbolic bids to bolster the consumer’s self-esteem, then it becomes obvious why glamour, elegance—the semiotics of exclusion—carry an explosive emotional charge. A piece entitled Glamour offers a double-pointed Japanese-style sword blade engraved with the phrase “The abyss calls forth the abyss,” displayed on a bier draped with costly-looking brocade, but of course the sword looks too dangerous to handle.

Witness is a shadow box containing a gleaming .357 Magnum handgun with a glass eye embedded in its handle. That the user of the gun must close the eye with his hand to pull the trigger becomes a neat metaphor for the sleep of conscience that makes the gun look untouchable in a whole new way.

Scott’s recent work gives the impression that he may have doubted the moral force of his handmade art and so felt that he had to resort to more literal means. I hope this show of untouchable objects will rid him of any such doubts so he can let his hand do the talking again.

Kenneth Baker