New York

Joan Wallace


If, as some attest, art and the marketplace are inextricably bound (the gallery as great shining supermarket), then somewhere near the checkout counter tabloids blare with breathless worry over the “divorce” of the collaborative duo Wallace & Donohue. Their thieving tour de force, which interrogated modes of exhibition, and their willful confusion of individual, brand-name ownership underscored, after all, the orderly corridors and bright lights of said supermarket. Sometimes uneasy company, together and apart, Joan Wallace and Geralyn Donohue have divided the shelves and unpacked the crates, continuing, individually, to frustrate the propriety of authorship.

Mein Cunt” is a show of boxes—some open, some strapped or locked shut—whose punning title cunningly references Hitler’s prison tract Mein Kampf. Wallace’s publicly disclosed cunt is inscribed instead within the prison of language, schizophrenically juggling what her exhibition essay headily refers to as the discourses of fascism and feminism. The show’s namesake work hovers in front of the wall, propped up by trademark W & D scaffolding, with the red words “Mein Cunt” tagged, graffiti-style, over a woman’s profile. Interrupted by three outward-shining blue lights and a file drawer labeled “The Story of A Divided State,” the painting’s surface teases the viewer’s touching urges. Sliding the drawer open discloses a hot box of eight blinding white lights, Wallace’s metaphor for the controlled and surveyed anatomies/identities of women combined with the authoritarian theatrics of a stadium rally.

Conceptually ambitious, this exhibition resides somewhere beyond the seven individual works, Wallace’s essay, and the opening night Oktoberfest spectacle of bier und wurst–munching visitors chatting over the din of piped-in Wagner. Her extrapictorial methodology charges that file-drawer label with multiple readings, as simultaneously a nod to Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which is Not One, 1977, grand-scale nationalist fervor, and the individual alienation of a life lived under the dictates of fascist psychology (“obedience without content”). Wallace poses as the self-appointed terrorist of academic feminist art practice, throwing a rhetorically overwrought wrench into the gears of institutional critique. Her search-and-destroy mission collides signifiers and overlaps codes; it amounts to a veritable romp in the fields of discourse. Yet, while she interrogates the efficacy of a “politically engaged” art practice (or even the terms of the debate: i.e., “political,” “patriarchy,” “the body”), Wallace traps herself in a somewhat glib paradox, forced to cut off her nose to spite her face.

Most of the pieces pair the perfunctorily rendered figure of Frank Stella’s early stripe paintings (“meaning. . . [as a] function of public space”) with the contour of a woman’s head derived from Sherrie Levine’s early work, which pictured women and children keyholed through presidential silhouettes (women in culture viewed through the “patriarchal window”). Bob’s Your Uncle (all works 1991), a massive box with pink and black panels covering a blowup of Robert Morris’ infamous pose in chains and sunglasses, embalms this icon of Morris’ sexualized exodus from the strictures of Minimalism within a sort of curtained coffin. More deadpan and less riotous than Lynda Benglis’ revenge on Morris—her famed dildo ad printed in this magazine, which both mocked and claimed the phallus—Bob’s Your Uncle acts as a cool one-liner, failing to pry very deeply beneath the historical skin of fetishized male bodies or Minimalism’s institutional hegemony.

The paradigms of revelation and disclosure drive three additional works: 1983–1991 pairs black sunglasses with a light box; the curvaceously titled 36 24 36 (Or, Homage to the Secret Drive of Doctor Freudstein) hides its secret in a safe; and HER( Hurt)/( Hurt) Her (for Pinky) quietly puns abuse, both visual and physical. Perhaps most unruly in its examination of the collective slippages of language, Untitled fills the east gallery with a nasty yellow canvas repeatedly spray-painted in red with the word “legend.” Accompanied by a refrigerator bound with heavy ropes and an illuminated booth built into the painting—part confessional, part porno stall—the work provokes and elicits viewer retaliation with a coffee can filled with pens. The resulting predictable scrawls (“BRING HOME THE TROOPS,” “AIDS IS GREAT—KILL THE PIGS” or “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” [Work will make you free]) resonate with the sort of repressed and displaced psychology alluded to within Wallace’s essay, extending the impact of the Jean-Luc Godard quote with which she frames the piece: “Sometimes reality is too complex for oral communication. Legend gives reality a form so that it can be spread all over the world.”

Tom Kalin