New York

Kirsten Stoltmann


In her New York solo debut, Los Angeles–based artist Kirsten Stoltmann used materials and techniques familiar from junior high art class to access the absurd heights and maudlin depths of teenage fantasy. The arrangement of collages, sculpture, and video that she exhibited at Wallspace blended desire and shame, offering an adolescent take on sexual fantasy, racial politics, and materialistic envy. Regression to a teenage mind-set might seem counterintuitive when examining such complex topics, but Stoltmann manages to inject at least some nuance. The reflexive implications of the show’s title, “I Know What I’m Doing,” further suggested that Stoltmann is not the naïf she appears.

The best works included here were among the eight collages hung on one wall of the main gallery. Pieced together from images clipped from magazines and posters, these wax-splattered amalgamations of slick Lamborghinis, almost-naked women, and colorful flowers were a fanciful hybrid of girlish handicraft and boyish reverie. The finest example, All a Flutter, 2005, features a topless woman standing in front of a red Ferrari and peering down at a dramatically beautiful arc of butterflies issuing from between her legs. Another, Lamborghini 69, 2005, shows two cars—one black, one white—pasted suggestively together nose-to-tail against a creamy yellow ground.

The petulant tone of two other collages—in which garlands of chrysanthemums spell out I'M BORED and I'M PREGNANT against floral backgrounds—is irritating in isolation, but worked well here in conjunction with You Don’t Know Me, 2006, a floor-based sculpture whose title is spelled out in poured dark red urethane alongside the wine bottle from which the liquid appears to have spilled. Stoltmann moved to Los Angeles in 2003, and this work, one of the two newest in the exhibition, might be aligned with the humorous, make-one-thing-look-like-another sculpture with which the city now seems rife. One could imagine a teenager, eyes narrowed and cheeks flushed from too much alcohol, making the defensive declaration to a parent or a first love. But Catalyst for Expansion, 2006, a comforter with a small cigarette burn set on a bedlike pedestal nearby, undermined the acerbity of Stoltmann’s floor-bound words; it evokes not only Tracey Emin’s sculptural language, but also her inability to self-edit.

Catalyst nearly filled the gallery’s second room, in which Chronicles, 2005, a nonnarrative video constructed from twelve minutes of juxtaposed vignettes, was projected. In this work Stoltmann brings collage techniques unsuccessfully to bear on an absurdly disparate array of images: amateur shots of children doing craft projects; the artist and a friend staging a low-budget, backyard “druid bacchanalia”; touristic views of the ostentatious Hearst Castle; and seemingly appropri- ated footage of wild horses and of a mechanical breast pump. Music slowed down beyond the point of recognition—a staple of her earlier videos—and Madonna’s “Hung Up” (played at normal speed) pro- vide the sound track to this unruly mélange.

Stoltmann’s videos have always been ambiguous, but this one’s inscrutability made me long for the social critique—however coded—of Let’s Get It On, 2001, or Couple (made with her husband, artist Sterling Ruby, in 2003), both of which redeem the farcical scenarios they present. Chronicles, by contrast, gives the impression of being made for its own sake, without a concomitant sense that it could not have been made any other way—a problem emblematic of this conceptually uneven, ultimately disappointing exhibition.

Brian Sholis