New York

Keith Farquhar


Relatively unknown in the United States, Edinburgh-based artist Keith Farquhar has been exhibiting cool, humorous, at times obliquely political drawings, paintings, and sculptures in Europe for nearly a decade. Deadpan figures made of clothing have lately become a signature form—blue jeans for legs, hooded shell jackets or sweatshirts for the upper body. Pinned against walls or other supports, the characters are draped and creased to give them slight but distinct expressions; but such “individuation” only makes them appear more generic, whether they’re alone or arrayed into ritualistic room-size tableaux. It’s a vision of post-individual malaise both comic and sinister, a Gap window display gone wrong.

Farquhar’s New York debut featured a big, brand-new installation as its centerpiece. Atomised (all works 2005), comprised a sixteen-foot-tall column of neatly folded white sweatshirts surrounded by slouchy white hoodie-and-Levi’s males sitting around the room’s perimeter. Farquhar’s mobs can be menacing: cf. Our New Parliament, 2004, in which dark-colored hoodie-men surround a Plexiglas bier with red-blue sweatshirts—a different tribe?—laid out like corpses. But the gents of Atomised, sallow against the yellow walls, seem downcast—and for good reason, apparently. The work draws its title from the British edition of Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Elementary Particles (1998), which caps its scabrous antihumanism by contemplating the abandonment of sexual reproduction in favor of cloning and the distribution of genital pleasure receptors all over the body. The joyless drones of Atomised, regarding a totem composed of their own raw materials with a funereal air, seem destined not for replication but for recycling. Thus the reverently attended column stands as an ironic memorial to getting it up, and ultimately to masculinity itself.

Up on the gallery’s balcony—from which Atomised looked best—a six-by-five foot mock-up of a CD case by Farquhar’s defunct band the Male Nurse served as a sly, gender-muddled transitional object to a suite of works in another room. Literally gynocentric, it consists of six two-and-a-half-foot-high stylized vaginas sculpted in permutations of red, yellow, and blue neon tubing and mounted on the walls, plus one glowing a gummy “natural” pink. In this light Farquhar, with his impacted narratives, repetitions, and gender fixation, looks like a kind of autistic cousin to the ADD-afflicted Jason Rhoades. More explicitly than in Atomised, Farquhar here renders sex an abstraction; and the joke of those lifeless shells “turning on” these pinball-machine cunts is hilariously blunt. Still, the degree to which these works sour your mood may well depend upon on your knee-jerk response to, well, neon vaginas. For me, the reference to Barnett Newman (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and blue . . . get it?) seems an oddly polite coup de grâce.

The show was accompanied by a catalogue titled Bastards: The Creatures Made from Clothes. Excellent in its own right, it gave Atomised the air of a postscript; and indeed, Farquhar’s introduction to New York had a paradoxically summary air. You start to think, no wonder those sweatshirt bastards look tired. Yet Farquhar’s wit and uninhibited intellectual play stood out in the local season’s opening fortnight, his take on dystopia a refreshing contrast to the parade of juiceless banalities reacting, belatedly, to Robert Smithson or, grimly, to current politics. Perhaps it takes a citizen of Britannia to teach Americans how to have a laugh while one’s empire—of gender or geopolitics—goes down the tubes.

Domenick Ammirati