New York

Alexis Rockman

Jay Gorney Modern Art

Alexis Rockman continues to make cheerfully perverse paintings, indulging a taste for purulence and decoration, concupiscence and deformity. What might otherwise be regarded as no more than willful teenage-boy gross-outs become instead strenuously estheticized confections. Scenes of interspecies buggery and pukey rot glow with saturated colors and shimmer with old-masterish varnishes. Rock-man’s precise depictions of kinky sex and icky death might excite the admiration of Frederic Church or Martin Johnson Heade, and his two best paintings—Omission: The Fossil Record and Allosaurus (both 1991)—suggest Lurninist evocations of the primeval bog.

Rockman’s taxonomy/horror-movie paintings have been around for a number of years, but where he previously labored in the margins of acceptable contemporary art, it looks like he’s hit pay dirt with this recent show. The reasons for this have less to do with the work, which has not changed substantially of late, and more with shifting art-world fashions. After the precipitous collapse of the money-mad ’80s art market, the money-mad ’80s art of media and commodity critique looked shopworn and démodé overnight. Paintings like Rockman’s are ideally tailored for these financially depressed times. Beautifully executed and with plenty of stuff to look at, they tender the security and lived-in esthetic comfort of old masters. At the same time, their “ugly” or “bad” subject matter insures at least a frisson of radicalism. A dash of specious eco-consciousness peppers the pot for “concerned” viewers.

An awareness of the reasons for Rock-man’s recent success should not detract from an appreciation of his paintings, which will do well in the ambiance of this new fin de siècle. Huysmans’ des Esseintes decorated his claustrophobic mansion with the paintings of Gustave Moreau. Today’s neurasthenics could do worse than Rockman in furnishing their own parlors.

David Rimanelli