New York

Patty Martori

D'Amelio Gallery

As Pieter Brueghel had his peasants and old Dutch Proverbs, Patty Martori has her cigarettes and modern-day angst. Both depicted simple characters acting out parables of the complexities—humorous, surreal, or plain psychotic—of life. In Brueghel’s paintings, the exact meaning of putting out the broom (to party) or of a woman tying a pillow to the devil (she must be a shrew) may now be obscure, but a man shitting on a globe is still a good way to represent a misanthrope. Martori’s eight tableaux, though more contemporary in theme, may also be hard to figure at first; the scenarios in which her figurines—made of cigarettes wearing doll shoes and other tiny accessories—find themselves seem pretty odd. (Like Laurie Simmons’ photographed tableaux, they resemble smart advertising props, circa 1950, but Martori cites her inspiration in French dioramas of taxidermied, costumed frogs, circa 1700.) One figure is trapped on a glittering stage, splattered in blood, shielding the look of terror on its tiny face with its hands. A trio of characters compares the greatly differing sizes of their hands. Another cigarette finds a fleshy human leg that has, midstride, replaced its sticklike appendage. But the titles tell all. Bad Performance, 1996, Hand’s Down, 1997, and New Leg, 1996, are all existential episodes in which Martori’s troupe deals with the hand (the talent, the leg) that life gave you, or didn’t give you. In Martori’s universe, you don’t necessarily get what you need, much less what you deserve (one cigarette pushes another down a hole), or even what you can cope with (in Come on Get Up, 1996, an unfortunate has collapsed at the feet of his shocked fellows).

It’s been seven years since Martori’s last solo show in New York, but she has gracefully picked up where she left off. Her objects elude stylistic categorization and yet they form a recognizable oeuvre,operating within a psychic realm of artfully established moods. The work on view here, however, was newly explicit. While earlier pieces included surrealist stand-ins for the body (such as anthropomorphic furniture or a wall sprouting hair), Martori now uses bodies in stick-figure form. In addition to the cigarette scenes, Martori exhibited a series of precisely rendered gouache portraits of girls wearing glasses. Again, the titles are key, each referring to a Hitchcock film: the pictures must be a gallery of those myopic smart alecks, like Patricia Hitchcock’s character in Strangers on a Train, destined never to get the guy. Finally, Martori presented a series of minimalist drawings of rooms, doors, and windows, seemingly unrelated to the rest of the work on view. Skeletally spare, these might be the harsh architectural settings for the anxious cigarettes, or the empty rooms to be occupied by lonely-hearted girls with glasses.

Ingrid Schaffner