Peter Gallo

Wendy Cooper Gallery

Peter Gallo has all the (slow) moves of a neoslacker: an apparent disdain for materials; an alert scavenger’s attitude toward culture; an eye for the poignant frailties of the vernacular; and an occasionally breathtaking ability to evoke issues of great import. His work is, inevitably, a mixed bag, because he treats the world and his mind as jumbled compendiums, filled with little connections and bursts of revelation that his seemingly slight but actually pointed interventions reveal. It amounts to a kind of grunge arte povera, a witty and instinctive immersion in the stuff of the world that is alternately lax and labored, spottily profound.

A partial inventory of Gallo’s materials would include dental floss, toothpicks, a towel, string, wire, French vermilion oil paint, buttons, toilet paper, spackle, bric-a-brac, a bedsheet, picture frames, amateur sculptures, and patterned fabrics. These are usually mixed with snippets of found text or references to figures of cultural authority, either scrawled onto surfaces, collaged, or laboriously constructed as sculptures that allude to the likes of Spengler, Nietzsche, Kant, Pasolini, and Mondrian. His output becomes a kind of pantheon of gravitas—or, in its use of vernacular text, antigravitas made vital by the intensity of Gallo’s scribbles and his disinterest in pictorial nicety.

Was isst Aufklärung?, 1997, is a construction of wire, dental floss, and toothpicks that spells out its title across the gallery wall. Kant’s original phrase “Was ist Aufklärung?” (“What is Enlightenment?”) has been altered by Gallo through the addition of a tiny s in its second word, shifting its translation to “What eats Enlightenment?” Bending wire into words, encasing the wire in toothpicks, and securing the whole thing with a wrap of dental floss is an odd thing to do, but Gallo’s outwardly obscure procedure does make one think about the relationship between those materials and eating. It also acknowledges Kant while undercutting him, functioning as homage while unmasking the ambiguities of language, and positioning Gallo as both heir and pretender. Much of his work has a poignant, wistful quality, suggesting that interpersonal emotion constitutes the fundamental beauty of the world. Verwundet hat mich der, der mich erweckt, 2002, shows Nietzsche’s text “I am wounded by the one who awakens me” scrawled in stylized cursive script on a canvas beneath two fleshy orbs with dark hearts inscribed on them. The work breathes life into theory, unapologetic in its honeyed immersion in feeling.

Two paintings, Fuck Spengler, 2000, and Oh Mondrian, 2003, encapsulate more visceral responses to intellectual or visual stimuli. One can imagine Gallo in another mood reversing these sentiments, and either would be accurate. They seem not about determined certitude as much as the honesty of a visceral, impulsive response. Gallo also alludes in other works to the pathetic but somehow moving nature of vernacular signs, taking small hobby-store wooden panels of a cute deer or a skunk, tacking on a bit of canvas, and painting the whole thing pink. It’s that sense of the small but appropriate gesture that intrigues Gallo. He adjusts his raw materials just enough to allow them to speak more clearly, either of themselves or of his response to them. It’s stuff in flux, an interzone in which Gallo implies that the ambiguities of knowledge and understanding are most likely to be pinned down.

James Yood