New York

Andrew Masullo

Fiction/Nonfiction

Andrew Masullo combs junk shops, flea markets, garbage heaps, and attics in search of resonant objects and images. In the past, Masullo’s compulsive output (his previous New York show included 220 works selected from some 450 produced over the preceding year) ranged from mosaiclike text pieces made up of individually cut-out and assembled letters, to eviscerated books restuffed with cubes of fur and fabric.

The works shown here consist largely of original (primarily abstract) and found paintings on wood or canvas. A taut string of collage-paintings ringing the room includes an old watercolor fashion sketch, a black-and-white baby picture smeared with yellowish paint, and a photograph of a young boy, in which sections have been replaced with fur. Masullo’s interventions disfigure and therefore seem to discredit the originals, yet at the same time they somehow manage to salvage these homely artifacts from oblivion. In some cases the artist simply numbers the objects, indicating that they are now part of his oeuvre. By barely touching the originals Masullo implies a kind of two-stage creation in which he enhances the existing works and elevates them from unself-conscious productions to Art. In a somewhat clumsy declaration of this strategy, the artist inscribes the word “art” across a naïve portrait.

Masullo’s works often refer to his personal and family history. Monochrome backgrounds feature dates of psychological significance, artistic breakthroughs, and the births and deaths of kin. A piece inscribed “Daddy dies at 69. Mother is dead at 67” refers to the artist’s recent realization that he no longer has any rapport with Mom and Dad; in another piece, the artist’s birth date, September 6, 1957, is presented in tombstone fashion and waits to be completed upon his death. Other works refer to Masullo’s creative idols: two paintings supply the dates of Forrest Bess paintings owned by the artist, another the date of Barnett Newman’s death, a fourth the name of a silent-film actress who fascinated Joseph Cornell.

As opposed to Masullo’s previous New York exhibit which was more diversified, this show focuses, at least intermittently, on Masullo’s apparently longstanding identification with the film star Veronica Lake. Masullo at one time pursued a career as an actor and singer, adopting Andrew Lake as a stage name. Masullo’s professional headshots and Veronica Lake’s publicity photos recur throughout the works, subject to similar alterations. Lake’s image is set on various grounds, from red, white, and blue stripes of paint to tin foil; Masullo’s portrait is painted over with blue and white squiggles or set against painted backgrounds. Masullo has tended in the past to trade in cryptic codes that mingle shared (if obscure) cultural material with autobiographical details, and the power of his work derives from the intensity of his concentration on such diverse stimuli as Bess paintings and used grammar books. The reason for the artist’s fascination with Lake, however, is not elucidated in these recent works, and the camped-up idolization of a past screen star seems more predictable than Masullo’s previous efforts.

Lois E. Nesbitt