New York

Paul Myoda

Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

In Paul Myoda’s recent show, gawky, faux-rock sculptures snaked along the walls or dangled from the ceiling; one, with gaping maw, remained rooted to the floor. Cast in Styrofoam and gypsum resin with artificial stone aggregate, these varied creatures presented polymorphous, loosely modeled surfaces, which in the sculptural tradition typically signal a susceptibility to forces beyond individual control. But Myoda’s works could not be further from overwrought Hellenistic figures or Rodin’s fallen heroes; in fact, they look more like props for a Godzilla flick. In their incarnation as Claymations, in Myoda’s video Gargoyles, 1995, the creatures emit guttural sounds somewhere between human speech and animal noises, burbling “gar gar” and “goyle” in gravelly voices as they jerkily engage in what resemble mating rituals. Their genders, however, are as vague as their outlines. Nebulous and hybrid, Myoda’s monsters embody a shifting alterity—the young artist’s de rigueur retort to the recent deluge of work based on identity politics.

Myoda’s effectiveness depends, it seems, on his medium. His sculptures are easily dismissed as “dumb” art, while the disorienting, somewhat surreal atmosphere of the videos lends this otherwise puerile project a dark humor. Myoda’s first video, Straw Man, 1993, starring a grotesquely libidinous scarecrow, falls somewhere between The Wizard of Oz and Salo; Gargoyles presents a kind of creation myth loosely organized into a narrative in which Hesiod’s Theogany meets Gumby. It opens with a baby monster crawling into the head of an adult monster, and ends with the midget’s emergence from the adult’s anus (turning the patriarchal myth of the birth of Athena on its derrière). Structured by reaction shots and rendered familiar through vaguely identifiable gestures and sounds, the “story” unfolds like an explanation of how this new gargoyle came to be—from conception to birth to rebirth. These vignettes, however, no more cohere into a sensible tale than the choked syllables coalesce into a discernible language. Myoda says he was inspired by the grotesques of other cultures—French medieval gargoyles and Buddhist tzukubai (devotional water basins). Just as the frightful aspect of both gargoyles and tzukubai once served an apotropaic function, in Gargoyles the parodic dialogue and action ward off conventional narrative.

In between courtship and mating scenes, a recurrent chorus of three ragged, pyramidal shadows—small, medium, and large—attempt to fly, burbling excitedly all the while, as if showing off for each other. The plywood versions, entitled Cast Shadow of Dusk, 1995, and Cast Shadow of Dawn, 1995, were installed at the junctures of ceiling and wall or wall and floor, suitably transitional positions. In its more simplistic manifestations, such as dopey monster sculptures, Myoda’s expression of a riven subjectivity is mostly annoying. When wielded more restlessly and mysteriously, as in the videos and plywood sculptures, it constitutes a kind of seductive neo-primitivism where alterity and mutability offer a psuedoauthenticity. Such sincere artificiality may prove Myoda’s work to be nothing more than the latest manifestation of Baudelaire’s “perspicacious and bored civilization.”

Faye Hirsch