New York

Steve Gianakos

Barbara Toll Fine Arts

Executed in a plain black and white printers’ palette and attended by formal geometric accents, Steve Gianakos’ recent works on paper remind me of the naughty cocktail napkins my parents’ friends used to bring us as novelty gifts in the ’50s. Despite the ambiguity of the content of these works, it’s easy to appreciate the artful collage of images that look as if they were cut from draw-me ads, paint-by-number paintings, and Playboy-type drawings, and then Xeroxed and enlarged—and to marvel at how cleverly these fragments have been put together.

Though Gianakos’ formula cockeyed Picasso heads, Mondrianish compositional squares, and funny titles give these works a quirky vitality, one doesn’t quite know what to make of a piece that depicts a Betty Boop––like figure degraded by the likes of Adolf Hitler, even if it is called April Fool #1 (all works 1992). (The perverse Führer was, appropriately, born in that cruelest of months.) As if that weren’t enough, there’s an April Fool #2 in which a man in Gestapo gear tries to finger a wide-eyed female, naked except for her socks, flaunting an unquestionably irresistible backside. And what of the meat-rack metaphor put forth in The Butcher? Or the pathetic figure in No More Lonely Nights whose only intimate company is a friendly bedside rooster? Then again, there’s the revenge of the smart-aleck tease in IXNAY; a transsexualized figure, with a full-cupped chest taped on and a Hollywood grin, wheels on a staircase to expose herself. These images seem to straddle the line between being malicious and offensive for the sake of rude fun and undressing sexist stereotypes with a loony and magnificent cunning.

That it is impossible to determine whether Gianakos is a world-class misogynist or a brilliant art-historical satirist is a point in the artist’s favor. The trouble with satire, of course, is that however pointedly it vivisects objectionable attitudes, it can’t help but perpetuate the very ideas it disdains. This doubleness is not necessarily a bad thing—after all, it motivates discussion—in its twisted way, it’s delectably bad behavior. Heaven knows, if anyone gives out a Naughty Artist of the Year Award, Gianakos should win hands down, even if he ain’t misbehavin’.

Linda Yablonsky