New York

Kenny Scharf

Tony Shafrazi Gallery

The introduction of a crusade for a clean environment into Kenny Scharf’s work, though not insincere, apparently did not raise his consciousness to the point that he actually was able to relinquish his own use of toxic chemicals. In his most recent show, pulled together just before he abandoned his New York studio for fresh digs in Miami, Scharf seemed anxious to prove he had moved from being carnival master of the art world to occupying an eco-activist seat in the arena of international politics.

Indeed, one has to question whether the nearly 100 works on view added up to a sign of abundant passion or merely to an unnecessary display of excess. Not often is so much missionary zeal lavished on a single theme. Scharf’s works can be full of jolly-trucking fun; indeed, they are most engaging and effective when completely off-the-wall. The assemblages, which he calls “lixoballs” and “lixowalls,” after the Portuguese word for “rubbish” (lixo), possess the visual interest and party-hat poetry lacking in his paintings. Made entirely of a gay profusion of discarded or washed-up objects found on beaches and set into a poisonous core of hardened insulating foam, they look a little like plastic John Chamberlains in a Sputnik phase.

On canvas or on Sheetrock reclaimed from his former studio walls, the usual Scharf iconography—hot snakes, tousle-topped trees, and lascivious lizards—creeps over silkscreened images of early-’60s white-American bliss (floating catalogue-page ads for bug and weed killer and cautionary news headlines), seemingly unsure whether the latter are the sacred fetishes of popular experience or merely directly re-sponsible for poking more holes in the ozone layer.

There’s no doubt that Scharf is a 20th-century-loving boy. He’s fond of electronic gadgets and home appliances, Robert Kennedy and cars with big fins, while claiming an inheritance from Kurt Schwitters, Jean Arp, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol. For the most part, however, Scharf’s effort to combine his obsessional devotion to received images with his worthy campaign to save the rainforest is just too slick and tired to give these works much real depth.

Linda Yablonsky