New York

Peter Liversidge

Rare Gallery

In his first one-person show in New York, British artist Peter Liversidge reproduces internationally known signifiers like the logos of Lufthansa and BMW with a childlike clumsiness that strips all slickness from the corporate icons. He makes no bones about his limited skill as a draftsman: In a 1999 catalogue for a show at A22 Gallery in London, the artist complained, “I really am trying. . . but I just can't paint these products the way the manufacturers would like too see them.”

Yet perfection is scarcely the objective. Unlike, say, Warhol's uncanny realistic appropriations, which glorified the everyday by apotheosizing the design of household products, Liversidge's paintings and sculptures aim precisely to undermine advertising's crisp sheen. The artist carefully renders a BMW logo with a sagging inner circle in Tomorrow, Today, 2001, a reference to desire and its deferral; in Welcome to Germany, 2001, a jet's twin engines are skewed so that one points slightly downward, suggesting a landing position, while the other tilts skyward as if powering a takeoff. The Rolex wristwatch in The Underwater World Is Full of Surprises/Running Out of Air Shouldn't be One of Them, 2001, is vertiginously impastoed and the artist's various painted-cardboard cameras—a Nikon, a Polaroid, and a Kodak Instamatic, among others—have a distinctly homemade quality. Liversidge's deliberately amateurish recycling of well-known, meticulously designed and crafted objects and glossy advertisements degrades the products along with their insignia, negating their consumerist appeal and our now automatic associations of quality and reliability with these objects.

In addition to his constructions—which also include an eight-foot sculpture of lightning and seven silver helium balloons that spell out MONTANA—Liversidge displayed an array of miniature painted landscapes representing his conception of the desolate northern plains of that state, an area he chose in part because he has never been there. These smallish works on fiberboard, which at first glace are simply innocent, romanticized views of broad expanses of prairie and sky, contain specks of a narrative incident referred to in the works' ominous titles, as in An Elk Slides Easily Over the Frozen Wastes of the North Montana Plains, 2000. As with Liversidge's commercially related work, here nothing remains benign, and purity itself is revealed as deceptive,a wistful fantasy.

The formulas Liversidge invokes derive from Pop's strategy of targeting and reconstructing the ubiquitous, of scrutinizing the familiar in order to defamiliarize it. He addresses aspects of desire and seduction, which become variously contravened in his re-created icons and landscapes—harking back to ambiguities confronted decades ago by Pop artists, including the problematic break, in hand-painted Pop, with abstraction. One can only hope that as Liversidge develops his art he will extend the care with which he attends to the “surface” of his works, as did the best of Pop, to the material circumstances that define our period, as the earlier movement did the postwar era.

Mason Klein