Lily van der Stokker

In her first solo museum project in the United States, Dutch artist Lily van der Stokker traded her usually sweet and optimistic written commentaries for playful, gossipy complaints about real and fictional family and friends. She retains her cheerful “girlish” colors and precise ornamental patterns in four wall paintings of varying scales that extend into sculptural forms and furniture. Although the paintings have the appearance of spontaneous doodles, they are in fact technically intricate works based on numerous graphic studies that she traced from projections on to the four gallery walls.

In the largest work at the Worcester Art Museum, the almost eighteen-foot-high Jack and Money in the Bank (all works 2004), van der Stokker fills a purple outline reminiscent of a Carroll Dunham and another that suggests a border or coastline with tessellating patterns of red, green, and yellow squares. The message JACK HAS $3700,– IN THE BANK BUT NOT FOR LONG is written in various colors and sizes atop the widest part of the painting, while an arrow directs our attention to a tiny checkered tripod table and two chairs in front of it. Above this pink, peach, and white domestic set, a smaller-scaled text explains how Jack is SPENDING IT ALL ON CD’S AND BOOKS. Although only insiders will know Jack’s true identity, everyone will be able to relate to the artist’s gentle familial angst.

The purposely bitchy Katerina and I can’t stand her represents van der Stokker’s strategy of using color and form to humanize—and feminize—her intimate and humorous notations. Beside a babypink and peach amoebic wall painting and an attached floral, boxlike construction are painted the lines KATERINA IS A NICE PERSON, LAST YEAR NOW I CAN’T STAND HER ANYMORE. The cheerful colors and wavy purple- and magenta-outlined ovoid and curlicue forms lighten the blow of van der Stokker’s cranky musings about a (probably fictional) pal. Katerina charts the initial enchantment with and eventual dislike of a girlfriend—the kind of universal experience that prompts, in the artist’s words, a “desire to make things that can be understood by everyone.”

Van der Stokker is clearly in love with “distorted” geometry and adjusted color, a formal play wonderfully evident in the diminutive Little Fatty Olga. A cuboid but slightly imperfect construction in pale yellow is decorated with red polka dots and attached to a wall inscribed with a cursive message evocative of adolescent cruelty. Biomorphic thought bubbles embrace the tricolored script, and a right-angle triangle decorated with a checkerboard of yellow, red, and green abuts the sculpture.

Van der Stokker’s peculiar brand of neoconceptualism is designed to appeal more to the heart than the brain. It is witty and shares a formal kinship with Keith Haring and Dunham, as well as a closeness to Mary Heilmann’s humorous and lyrical take on nonrepresentational painting. Whereas autobiographical moments often provide an impetus for the works, their simple forms and girlish colors frequently evoke Pop art, psychedelic design, and geometric abstraction. An artist who claims a closer allegiance to Gertrude Stein than to Mondrian, van der Stokker’s art is lightheartedly subversive in its exploitation of visual accident and pointed prose.

Francine Koslow Miller