Kathy Temin

Kathy Temin uses fake fur, felt, plastic, and polystyrene to make trashy, handcrafted objects and assemblages. In her most recent show, an image of a cat was splayed like a crazy logo across a huge mat made of artificial fur. The pile was so thick and the design so attenuated that, in this warehouse-size gallery with its polished concrete floor, Cat Mat, 1997, seemed at first to be merely a slightly soiled-looking dust magnet. Temin’s throwaway logic was further played out in the clumsily sculpted, awkwardly placed polystyrene screens she used to partition the otherwise elegant exhibition space. With their hand-cut perforations, the dividers have a cheap and nasty feeling—like Cat Mat, they have a sting in their tail.

Although the works look used, they manage to maintain a certain freshness thanks to an ambiguous, self-deprecating silliness that is convincing because it is so contrived. Temin’s clunky technique has always been at odds with the expectation that artists who sew or stitch will do so skillfully. Her surface clumsiness underlines the general sense of unease that fuels her seminarrative assemblages of Bart Simpson–like cartoon figures, such as Speechless, 1998, or the seven-part collection of monochrome felt tableaux entitled Troubled Times, 1997, in which domestic themes—of sex, sleep, and food—are inexplicably reduced to patches of fuzzy gray material. Though some might see affinities between Temin’s art and that of Eva Hesse, Jackie Winsor, or Marie Jo Lafontaine, Temin and other artists of her generation have little interest in the late-Modernist gambits of their forebears.

In her two previous exhibitions, Temin’s early, signature-style wall drawings made from skeins of wool (weirdly clever, at times creepy pop equivalents of works by Fred Sandback) gave way to crudely carpentered, human-size birdhouses lined with fake fur. The new show’s installation was both more reductive and less painterly, and Temin’s juxtaposition of different synthetic materials and quasi-narrative figuration block most attempts to construct meaning. In fact, because looking at Temin’s merely adequate simulation of sculpture and painting through stitching and sewing required moving around the heavily coded white space of the gallery, the work seemed to have as much to do with corporeality as caricature.

Temin’s scrappy aesthetic reflects a growing emphasis on the quotidian among many artists of her generation. This type of “work” often seems reluctant or uncommitted. It also eschews narcissism: Temin’s silly animals are neither hysterical, like Mike Kelley’s playthings, nor angst-ridden. Critics who have looked to trauma as a way of decoding her work—whether the psychic wounds are personal or collective, as embodied in her family’s memories of the Holocaust—do her a disservice. Instead, Temin’s goofy pieces construct something deliberately and cleverly minor, with all the millennial inflections that connotes.

Charles Green