New York

Jon Pylypchuk

Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

A few works by Jon Pylypchuk in a group show at this gallery back in September brought a whisper of hope that the coming New York season might promise something a little different. While his influences are readily apparent (from Dubuffet to Mike Kelley), Pylypchuk’s work is fresh and witty, and there is certainly nothing quite so folksy and disarming around at the moment—which seems to be marked by unfailingly good taste, low risk, and certain formal refinement. (I’m thinking about everything from Jorge Pardo’s floor at Dia to Ricci Albenda’s recent installation at Andrew Kreps.)

Of course, gaucherie is not in itself immune to preciousness, but Pylypchuk’s work has more the irreverence of Dada collage, despite the fey title of his New York solo debut, “The Crying, No Arms Mournful Thoughts Society.” For six years, Pylypchuk (who often goes by the pseudonym Rudy Bust) has been working with screwed-together plywood scraps and irregular remnants of striped polyester fabric and wallpaper, which he glues down and sprinkles with sand and glitter. Painterly in aspect if not in execution, Pylypchuk’s synthetic creations (twenty-six new works, all from 2000, were on view) use the pattern of wood grain and the verticals and horizontals of the fabric and wallcoverings to delineate schematic interiors, landscapes, and seaside narratives. Populating these scenes is an odd assortment of characters: matchstick children; plywood people with very pointy boots; velvet hearts ambling about on spindly legs; and a recurring blob-shaped head that sometimes appears as a sun up in less-than-clear skies. Pylypchuk renders them all with sad eyes and mouths, often in embarrassing or abject acts (sobbing; vomiting a gluey mess speckled with brightly colored stuff). Tiny lines of handwritten text trail from the characters’ mouths and give the works their titles. The messages are melancholy and lovelorn (“these days are curses and your thoughts are like angels”), self-deprecatory (“oh I am a sicky”), or dismissive (“my interest in your despair was only nominal” and the priceless “forget it fuck face”). To one frowning, heart-shaped character’s statement, “nothing can be as lonely as you,” a dejected blob-head responds, “I will lose two friends today then.” These little maledictions, the kinds of stinging curses that erupt from bruised egos and broken hearts, give the work much of its pathos. Their origins seem diaristic; in an interview in the catalogue, Pylypchuk said he started making scrap art that “dealt with the most tragic aspects of life,” a remark made after speaking of the loss of family members. His work exposes aspects of a young man’s bumpy emotional terrain, fraught with fears of loss and rejection but resorting to humor as a means of deflection.

Pylypchuk, a UCLA art school product, is also associated with the Royal Art Lodge of Canada, a group that includes Marcel Dzama and Neil Farber, practitioners of similarly quirky art. Achieving a shabby, slacker art-student poignancy, Pylypchuk presents his emotional and material modesty rather grandly, on the heroic scale one expects from art executed with a paintbrush rather than a glue gun. Alternating among irony, disaffection, and sincerity, these forlorn works are besotted with adolescent sadness but elevated by poetry.

Meghan Dailey