New York

Ida Applebroog

In Ida Applebroog’s installation the intimacy of her images reverberated within the vast expanse of this Art Deco space. Rather than making her point with size and scale, she used a concentrated field of paintings and the back wall of the lobby to evoke the menacing consequences of seemingly isolated actions and incidents.

She painted this entire wall a sickly green, which recalled the institutional color used in schools and hospitals. In front of it she constructed a slightly elevated rubber mat covered with black roofing paper. Though this platform created a boundary between the work and the viewer, it also invited the viewer to enter the space. On this black rectangle, Applebroog arranged a thick, uniform congregation of props to be looked at and moved through; paintings on canvas stretched over thick wooden frames, each stabilized with a hinged leg pulled out for balance, stood at various angles.

Unlike her earlier work—in which painted components offered a fragmented narrative of multiple scenarios, damaged personalities, incidents, threats, and fears—Everything is Fine, 1993, provided a deliberately focused but equally inconclusive narrative. Inspired by Richard Preston’s account of a horribly aggressive virus carried by monkeys shipped to the United States for laboratory experiments, Applebroog’s paintings depicted these silent, uncomprehending carriers of a menacing new virus. Arms, heads, torsos, and legs either stood independently like severed body parts or were assembled into complete figures. Some monkeys were crouched over; others balanced on crates with heads up and arms outstretched in pleading gestures.

There was little dignity here; these specimens faced a future of tests, punishment, torture, and inevitable destruction. Their scattered forms filled the space—a terrifying vision of global environmental problems implied in each one’s gloomy fate. These primates established a poignant connection between ravaged equatorial habitats and the analytical processes of modern science. Their abuse as laboratory animals can be read as a metaphor for the dangerous entitlements of power.

These painted panels became solemn markers of loss; viewers passed among them as they might wander in a cemetery, their meandering routes and halting steps recorded in the gray footprints left on the black surface. The large, eerie, green wall beyond was blank except at the far edges, where Applebroog scattered other disturbing signs of life. Mostly small images on unstretched canvas, there were also figures with blank faces—alone, in tentative embraces, or supine in hospital beds. On each side a composite of multiple panels announced a scene of domestic violence that alternated between figures of a woman wielding an ax and of a man grasping a knife, with the face of the potential victim nearby.

Applebroog offered no easy resolution of the various elements of her disquieting installation, but the piece suggested that global, local, and domestic phenomena, which originate in ostensibly circumscribed settings, are all potentially subject to the abuses of power. This work is not a reflexive response, nor is it a plaintive gesture; rather, it transcends obvious sloganeering. In fact, Applebroog makes no appeal at all. In her enigmatic but tenacious representations of violence she simply provides a practiced, skeptical view of the interdependence of contemporary environments.

Patricia C. Phillips