New York

Liz Craft

Marianne Boesky Gallery | 509 West 24th Street

A macho female magickal childe whose parents, siblings, babysitters, and alter egos smoke too much pot; a coolly uncool troller in the junkyards, souvenir shops, dens, and bedrooms of an ur-’70s California of the mind; a savvy navigator of the lineage of hyperreal figurative sculpture that plays oedipal anxiety against consumerist ennui: The sensibility animating Liz Craft’s busy roomful of cast bronze objects was all these. Now participating in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, the young Angeleno was groomed for art stardom before she finished UCLA, and she has no qualms about asserting an abject post-Pop irony that courts serious collectors and high production values. Her first major New York show operationalized kitsch in an almost preternaturally efficient manner. The work is scatological and scathing, but what sets it apart from the Charles Rays and Paul McCarthys to which it might be compared is a fascination with female sexuality that places waifish/wastrel youth on a continuum with monstrous age and, in a caustic way, venerates both.

As arranged in the gallery, Craft’s anthem of groovy ugliness had a tableaulike feel. “Outside” was marked by The Spare and The Shopping Cart (all works 2003), a tire and wheeled basket with spatulate cacti growing from them, all in bronze. Also in this ideational vacant lot were Poop with Flies and Poop with Flying Flies, swirled metal piles with the “fliers” attached on wires. Beaded Curtain, meanwhile, signaled entry to domestic space, however spaced out said domesticity might be. Massively oversize wooden beads made the hippie decor a portal into Aliceesque scale shift; in the next gallery, a unicorn with a rainbow horn was having its tail braided by a top-hatted skeleton. This colloquy between a little-girl figurine and a Grateful Dead–land escapee suggested the proximity of a younger and older sister, or manifestations of the same kid at different ages. A similar feeling of kaleidoscopic age range pertained in Lounging Lady and Little Girl, a rubbery-kneed odalisque with witchy-poo face and high-heeled boots and a white-patina’d innocent kneeling on a (bronze) milk crate, who somehow made up halves of the same entity.

Best was the implied pairing of the Venice Witch and Mountain Mamas. The latter, in ceramic and painted fiberglass, were floor-based female forms, evocative of sand castles or melted candles, mud pies or chocolate kisses, shitlike pseudoarchaic Venuses with huge breasts and bellies, tiny hands and feet, and vestigial heads—in a few cases, butterflies were perched on their pointy necks. The affectionate gross-out of these distressingly opulent icons was mirrored and reversed in Venice Witch, a bronze stick figure clad in Stevie Nicks beads and roller skates, her clawlike labia and long-nippled dugs, pursed lips and gnarled hands the only modulations to her crazed skinniness.

Between this ghost of boardwalks past and the comfy mess of the Mamas, Craft posits a wise child’s horror at the exaggerated options of womanhood as either sterility or fertility, anxiety or sloth. At the same time, a burly/saucy confidence is evinced in all this bronze, the traditional marker of a sculptor’s heroic marketability. Of course, the medium and its exhaustive casting procedures are, here, kitsch, as are the tingles of curiosity and rage—which are expressed not only in the works’ musings on adult bodies and their frailties and lures but in the show’s underlying desire to overthrow or join some impossibly grand sculptural tradition. What Craft wants, in effect, is a third-gender space where the female artist is not required to become the naked girls and ladies of her objects or the masterly authority that brings them into being. If there’s a whiff of contrivance, of unnerving calculation or slickness here—and there is—perhaps it’s because Successful Artist is one of the few labels under which such androgyny can travel past the margins.

Frances Richard