San Francisco

Melissa Pokorny

Paule Anglim Gallery

The deadpan humor of Melissa Pokorny’s neorococo constructions depends, in part, on a combination of the familiar and the utterly odd. Mounds, towers, and rows of cute little creatures serve as a kind of wry punctuation for the eccentric forms Pokorny assembles out of fragments of thrift-store furniture, swaths of fabric and/or bundles of turned wooden balusters. Clots of puppies, lambkins, poodles, and trolls cast out of a spongy polyurethane foam nestle together in nooks and crannies. Tinted the same peculiar early ’70s palette—burnt orange, lime green, fleshy mauve, or mustard yellow—as the rehabilitated bits of rec-room decor they occupy, they occasionally erupt in an exuberant cascade, like so many cherubs tumbling off a Bernini altarpiece.

Kitschy bits of low culture such as these toys have become a familiar, often ironic element in contemporary art. The detritus of childhood (a period which has provided us with almost as much inspiration as the entire sweep of art history) has been particularly favored, as Barbie dolls, bunnies, balloons, and guns have found their way into our galleries and museums. Unlike a lot of these emotionally loaded playthings, though, Pokorny’s skinless little creatures successfully repudiate the projection of any kind of pathos or sentimentality. Cast from life (so to speak), these antiputti are more about art itself than they are about angst. Like the other materials Pokorny has elected to use, they are the faintly perverse, nauseatingly magnetic elements of an intelligent, funny, feminist bricolage.

Several pieces coyly play peekaboo, inviting the viewer to draw back a curtain for a more intimate view. In Amplification Arabesque, 1994, this coquettish air becomes enigmatically Eastern, a reading suggested by a crowning pile of foam sharpeis with cunning little glass eyes, as well as the use of brocade-style fabric to drape the balusters that form the L-shaped body of the piece. Then there are the slender wooden skewers thrust randomly into the mound of puppies, which might refer to hairpins, chopsticks—or some kind of slapstick acupuncture. In Ample-Bundt (Voluptuary), 1995, curved sections of two dinette seats have been loosely sandwiched together, back to back. The resulting object suggests the possibility of a pleasurable repose. The uppermost part of this form has been covered in a garmentlike slipcase of vividly striped velour; the bottom two thirds remain almost lubriciously exposed. In the narrow gap between the two upholstered seats, Pokorny has stuffed a series of cast, foam Bundt cakes (reminding the viewer that food and sex are equally seductive), climaxing in a column of foam confections: a squooshy, squeeze-toy phallus, sprouting out of the cake-filled crack.

The title, Ample-Bundt, suggests an actual person—a sly cross between Modesty Blaise and the femme fatale in a James Bond movie. Though other titles may be less anthropomorphic, Pokorny’s pieces clearly refer to the nature and experience of female bodies, in the way that Louise Bourgeois’ work does (as opposed to, say, Judy Chicago). With a deft, hilarious perversity, Pokorny injects some real gumption and fun into post-Minimalist forms.

Maria Porges