New York

Gotscho

Grey Art Gallery

Even before encountering the works in Gotscho’s exhibition “Skins,” the visitor was confronted by his presence. In all the material accompanying this exhibition, the artist presented a single image of himself naked, shorn of all body hair, muscles bulging, triumphantly lifting a barbell over his head in moody semidarkness. This French body-builder, modiste, and artist is often—in hyperbolic Parisian fashion—flatteringly compared to historical giants and mythic figures, but to Americans his most distinguishing feature is a striking resemblance to Mr. Clean.

This emphasis on surface presentation is also characteristic of his work. The gallery lighting was extremely low, the installation suffused with the theatricality of an empty set. In an intimation of human skin, 30 jackets ranging in color from ivory to black hung together on one wall, their eviscerated linings hanging limply to the ground. Visions of sado-masochism and arcane torture faded as one dominant image took hold, the element that bound the group into a whole: the label—agnès b.

The other sculptural amalgamations of clothing or furniture focused on the issue central to Gotscho’s work—the outward projection of desire as an index of cultural identity. In an attempt to invoke the precise codes that define subcultures, classes, and eras, he cites specific objects, styles, and surfaces (skins). By leaving only the accumulated traces that define the body, Gotscho echoes Herbert Marcuse’s observation that we ultimately become the objects we possess. In T x P (all works 1992), the leather-boy’s Perfecto jacket is sewn to a chrome-plated bar stool and in P x R the coquette’s satin negligée is fused with a boudoir settee. In both pieces there is an emphasis on self-conscious identification and belonging, on the security obtained by recognizing and obeying cultural tenets. Gotscho reaffirms the first law of all disciplined sexual and cultural practices: that desire and pleasure must be ordered, must cohere to strict and often painful rules to be maximized. Instead of using some alternative form of discipline to counteract invisible social strictures, his work reflects a fawning acceptance of other’s rules, signaling a triumph of petit-bourgeois ressentiment: the terror of transgression and the faux-pas.

All of these works figure an absent body that points to but never addresses the problems associated with carnality. The crafted slender elegance of Skeleton—a furniture-sculpture made from an accretion of table parts in beech wood treated with white lacquer, mahogany varnish, and a cherry-red lacquer finish—conceals the rough manipulations that produced its bent forms, a framework that serves as the armature for two identical Hermès saddle pads that hang limply over the narrow legs. Similarly, in Cemetery the folded, stitched-together, white cotton shirts (agnés b. again), still in their plastic coverings, lie in silent rows atop tulip-crystal funerary urns. The insistent glamour of these pieces posits the existence of an idealized (glamorous) body, a construct that allows Gotscho to allude to issues affecting actual bodies while avoiding any unpleasantness. No spectacle of pain and ugliness, disease, withering, and death is to be countenanced here. The inherent innocuousness of Gotscho’s work is underscored by the exhibition’s rag-trade (agnés b., Gianfranco Ferre) sponsorship: in the midst of a recession it has appointed a new champion to showcase its wares to maximum effect.

Andrew Perchuk