New York

Jim Shaw

Metro Pictures

Jim Shaw’s show entitled “Thrift Store Paintings” was an iconoclast’s Cuba Libre—a salon-style exhibition of some 200 works by backyard truants, Sunday painters, and assorted others walking the unpaved byways of art. Some of these pictures were bonkers (surreal, softcore, or surfer-psychedelic)—raw material, in short, for Shaw’s own technically polished, neo-adolescent paintings. The connection between these thrift store paintings and the consciously amateurish style of many early-’80s Metro Pictures artists—John Miller’s trashcan-school cityscapes, for example, or Walter Robinson’s most sincere honey jars and pussycats—seemed poetic justice of a sort.

The show encompassed a wide range of abilities, degrees of sophistication, intentions, and signature-sizes. There is no real reason to condescend to these objects, and yet, while much has been made of the deadpan-descriptive titles Shaw gives the thrift store paintings—Yellow Surfer and Egg in Curl, Loinclothed Man Hanging by One Wrist, Pink Elephant with Bottles and Eye in Cocktail Glass, and Frankenstein-Magritte Boots are some examples—little respect has been accorded the pictures themselves. The last painting mentioned, however, could arguably be said to evoke the dead Christ’s gangrenous feet in Mantegna’s masterpiece as well as the dire but honest poverty of Van Gogh’s well worn shoes. Shaw has named names wherever possible in the index of his beautiful, essayless book on these paintings, yet no one has so much as mentioned the inspired DeRolf (his Two Shoes with Faces suggests Warhol’s early work), or Roehl, the creator of Headless Beat Girl with Text and Paint Brushes in Neck and other delightful decadences that just might withstand comparison to the lesser paintings of Kees Van Dongen. No one has bothered to say that Hus tel Avis’ Girl with Cigar-like Flute and Goats suggests Balthus’ nymphet crossed with Heidi, or that it recalls the more hieratically surreal compositions of the English artist Stephen McKenna. And if the talent behind Boy with Duck Toy Peers through Rusty Gates, which made it onto almost everyone’s list of favorites, must for the moment remain anonymous, can we not at least attempt a few loose attributions? School of Fernando Botero? A more naive Pavel Tchelichew? While the clown faces and pin-ups were, of course, predictable and inevitable, they set off, to advantage, such fey and limpid gems as Purple Toilet Paper and Flower (signed CM) and Distorted Woman in Western Clothes with Grid, an unsigned work that recalled both David Hockney and Henri Matisse.

Lisa Liebmann