New York

Cathy de Monchaux

Meret Oppenheim on steroids, accoutrements one might find in a dominatrix’s dungeon as outfitted by Industrial Light + Magic: It’s easy to get flamboyant describing Cathy de Monchaux’s sculpture. An alumna of Goldsmiths College in London, she shares some of the concerns of her YBA colleagues—an interest in seriality and repetition inherited from Minimalism combined with a propensity for brash decadence that seems to be drawn from Pop. But de Monchaux’s work functions within a symbolic code that is all her own. The two-venue show, “Mordant Rapture,” the artist’s second solo outing in New York, could be read as one continuous exhibition, or as two installations mirroring one another—doubleness of effect being central to the experience of this work. Painstakingly handmade and delirious with associations (the press release suggests “religion, shamanism, social taboos, Freud, Poe, Sade, Brothers Grimm, Gothic and Baroque art, Surrealism, but with a distinctly post-modern vision”), her opulent, disturbing artifacts are polymorphously perverse with meaning. Such hyperreferentiality swallows everything into itself, flipping the work toward hermeticism, and even humor.

De Monchaux’s bristling constructions of brass, silver, mink fur, leather, velvet, graphite, and chalk evince a consistent interest in the figure, albeit an uncanny and dismembered one. Maud’s Pink, 1999, for example, a leather floor sculpture at Sean Kelly, coils like a snake or an alien tentacle, pocked with mink-rimmed apertures that might be eyes, genitals, or piscine suckers. Red, 1999, another floor piece at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, submerges these figurative references into a weird piece of furniture. Part instrument case, part ottoman, its upholstered red velvet interior seems designed to protect some fragile entity, while the leather-and-brass strapping around the outside hints that such protection might equal domination.

This general atmosphere of replication and déjà vu was literalized by two works that reappeared in each gallery. The Day You Looked Through Me, 1999, a cibachrome print framed in leather-trimmed brass, shows a young girl in a red sweater dragging what looks like a piece of metal garden furniture across an expanse of sand, her expression either exuberant or frightened. Mayflower (Warbride), 1999, is at once more cryptic and in-your-face. Another brass-and-leather equipage frames a large, padded vulva sewn in red leather. Wedged into its slit-shaped core like an animating spirit is a cast-silver frog, both realistic and anthropomorphically elongated, a creepy, lapidary little golem.

Present in each venue as well was a single photographic piece installed in a light box—uptown, a misty green field spread across four panels; downtown, an equally enigmatic seascape. De Monchaux’s recent embrace of this medium is a smart move. The bright flatness and windowlike perspective allowed the intensely worked sculptures to breathe a bit, tempering a sometimes overheated climate. At the same time, the photographs’ cool, mechanical presence drew attention back to the craftsmanship in the three-dimensional works, the obsessive delight in detail. De Monchaux takes her fetishes seriously, and if they offer more frisson than jouissance, that is perhaps only appropriate, given their status as fantasies.

Frances Richard