Emmett McDermott

Zoe Gallery

In Emmett McDermott’s clever and irreverent collages of popular media images, this post-Pop artist couples photomechanical and painterly techniques by collaging color Xerox enlargements of magazine photographs onto softly modulated translucent acrylic grounds. Every image is positioned within a larger square and is neatly punctuated with subtle, meticulously positioned rectangles that bespeak the artist’s sense of design. In McDermott’s precise collages, he laminates modified celebrity and advertising images taken from publications such as People, Time, and Vanity Fair, frequently coupled with stenciled messages like “MEAT,” “TOURIST,” “FRUIT,” or “CUT,” onto medium-sized, square canvas grounds painted in high-key colors like tutti-frutti lemon, lime, and orange.

Oversized Xeroxed portraits of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pablo Picasso appear beside slick images of fast-food cheeseburgers, toast, and coffee, all presented with a perversely comical Warholian objectivity that equalizes them as laminated commodities. Entitled “Luxury Love Tour,” this exhibition also incorporates tapes of four of the artist’s favorite songs (“Destina,” “Rock and Roll Part II,” “Free Your Mind,” and “Mr. D. J.”).

In an outrageously satirical composition, Untitled (Arnold), 1991, a centralized life-size Xerox blowup of a 1969 publicity photograph of a young Schwarzenegger as Mr. Universe dominates a tangerine-tinted ground. His cheeks, lips, and nipples have been rouged with pastels, and the seductive message “TOUCH ME” has been stenciled to the left of this pumped-up icon.

Schwarzenegger also appears as a character in an untitled photocollage of carefully cutout black-and-white appropriated portraits of famous and infamous men. The bare-chested weightlifter accompanies Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, and Kirk Varnedoe (director of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) as a virile college football player. All are neatly arranged on a much larger image of a uniformed Qaddafi against a starry night sky. Instead of making a political statement, McDermott burlesques these masculine cultural types, employing the more seriously motivated Dada collage techniques of John Heartfield and Hannah Höch.

Onan, 1990, satirizes the baroque charm of the 18th century with a hand-colored portrait bust of a bewigged period dandy who sneers out from a lemon-yellow ground overpopulated with delicate butterflies taken from a Grand Marnier Liquor ad. What at first glance suggests the lighthearted creativity of a bygone era is obfuscated by the word “ONAN” stamped in milky translucent white capital letters across the figure’s chin and neck; McDermott’s daintily scripted signature is juxtaposed with the hidden message. The butterflies are metaphors for cosmic and self-referential mental masturbation, and the portrait bust (taken from an interior layout in Metropolitan Home) is a symbolic self-portrait. Onan, the biblical son of Judah who “spilled his seed on the ground” rather than “raise up issue” (Genesis 38.9), becomes a personification of modern-day narcissistic self-gratification.

In Untitled (Cheeseburger), 1991, McDermott glorifies the Big Mac as a contemporary image of comfort. Around a well-dressed double cheeseburger, McDermott stamps the messages “There is comfort in knowing what to expect in a cheeseburger,” suggesting that this junk-food icon is “DEPENDABLE,” “STABLE,” “WARM,” “INEXPENSIVE,” and “FRIENDLY.” Here the embodiment of the words “LUXURY” and “LOVE” from the show’s title constitutes a whimsically cynical take on a world of instant gratification and commodified emotion.

Francine A. Koslow