New York

Meyer Vaisman

As if by some unexpected formal progression, Meyer Vaisman has moved from representations of blown-up canvas weave to actual fabrics and reproduction tapestries. His new work is richer both in texture and in associations than anything he’s shown so far. Starting with expensive decorator tapestries, Vaisman seamlessly incorporates cartoon figures into the depicted scenes. As in a game of “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” at first glance it is difficult to tell what has been altered. In a work entitled The Making of the Wool (all works 1990) the viewer suddenly discovers a pair of cartoon laughing girls and a mule humping a sheep in the middle of the picturesque scene. In another piece called The Hunt, a Disney-style girl with a deer’s body joins the party.

The tapestries themselves are lovely to look at; they have a veneer of legitimacy that Vaisman’s inserts subtly violate, but never entirely disrupt. The color of the cartoons and the size and position of the figures are carefully matched to the elements in the tapestries so that what might come across as mere vandalism constitutes instead a discreet play on the institutional support of forms of beauty and taste. The tapestries were allegorical to begin with, and Vaisman’s transformations partake of this same symbolic strategy. Though Vaisman’s alterations demand to be assimilated and in this respect they throw the original narrative out of whack, the content he superimposes is at the same time somehow fitting; it’s no more surprising to find a jester in a garden tapestry than a fool in King Lear. The cartoonish ribaldry that Vaisman introduces is only partially implausible, since the conventions of courtly love always allow for the possibility of eroticism. What is left then, is a compromised or changed but by no means eliminated sense of both beauty and narrative.

The remainder of the pieces—layered cloth banners made of bedsheets and blankets—feel more capricious than the tapestries. Cutouts in the costly-looking brocade top layers expose bed-sheets beneath that look like they come from any American home—some have children’s prints on them, others are apparently designer styles. The willfully pretentious tassels and borders that Vaisman attaches to the mass-market bedding create something putatively tasteful out of dreck, but the words (Oops, and Ciao) and the face of Humpty-Dumpty or a caricature of a man in a top hat formed by the holes in the front layer of cloth are not so much subtle as banal and inscrutable. The textures of the various fabrics—cotton, silk and rayon—blend into a complex and sensual whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The stylishness of these banners is conjured out of little or nothing. Like the tapestries, they’re pleasant to look at: unlike them they’re so stunningly empty that their very blankness nearly dominates the room.

James Lewis