New York

Sean Landers

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Sean Landers makes art about the changeable fortunes of the artist’s life and oh! the Agony and the Irony. He can’t decide whether everyone hates him because he’s so avant-garde, à la van Gogh, or because he’s so popular, like Norman Rockwell. But Landers is more passé than réfusé at this point in his career, and his shtick hasn’t kept up. His sour meditations on success don’t grab like his earlier smirking but naked monologues on failure.

In these oil paintings (you’re meant to smell the authenticity) Landers sets cartoony hydra-headed dogs (Multi-Headed Mister, 1999) and breast-faced buds (The Right Stuff, 1999) against grounds filled with his trademark texts on self and career. In the press release, he claims Magritte as a model for working only to please oneself, nose-thumbing critical opinion, and Magritte seems to drive much of the imagery as well (e.g., Pipes, 1999). But Landers’s more immediate context here is the subgenre of painting that throws together tits and kitsch in a Surrealist environment, and compared with his fellow practitioners (Lisa Yuskavage and studio-mate John Currin), he is simply not very good in this idiom. While the images are occasionally amusing, they don’t seem necessary or revealing, but rather arbitrary, desultory. Some of the twenty-odd small gouaches of anthropomorphic animals are winsomely tawdry (and considerably fresher than the oils), but R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, and any number of comic strippers and cartoonists do it better. Two years ago at Rosen, Landers showed a group of “bad” paintings without text that were widely panned; it feels as if the text has returned here in the hope of propping up the images, and vice versa (Landers himself writes as much in Multi-Headed Mister).

In the texts, the artist works hard to anticipate and deflect criticisms: that he can’t paint, that he can’t write, that he is insincere, that he is no longer fashionable, that he will be forgotten. Landers manages to be, like many of us, simultaneously insecure and self-aggrandizing; griping about “European curators” (The Curator, 1999) and “critics” (The Perfect Truth, 1999), he sounds like a forgotten AbExer who made a single appearance in a ’64 ArtNews, instead of an artist who’s had seven New York solo shows including this one in ten years. There comes a point—probably once marriage supplants masturbation and regular shows replace anonymous toiling—when whining becomes less pathetic than annoying. Duchamp and Warhol took the concept, business, and institutions of being an artist as the subject of their work. Landers wants to do the same for the artist’s ego. Not a bad idea, I guess, as ideas go, and one that worked in the beginning—someone needs to talk about the real material and psychological vicissitudes of the artist’s life. But Landers’s form fails to capture his present circumstances, or at least to make us care; without the underlying capacity to rouse genuine feeling, the overused trope of parody wears thin.

Redeeming factors? Standing at a distance, you can get a giggle from a man with a penis nose (Le Domaine Enchanté AKA Monsieur Saucisson, 1999), or a duck with a football head (Football Duck, 1998). The three-year-old who accompanied me to the show really liked the strutting popsicle, Paletero Feliz AKA The Sucker, 1999, whom he referred to as “ice-cream guy.” He thought it was a good painting, but then, he can’t read yet.

Katy Siegel