New York

Cheryl Donegan

Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery

Corporeal black comedies, Cheryl Donegan’s videos of the early 1990s took aim at mythical heroics of male artistic creativity: She dipped her ass in green paint to make shamrock-shaped, Yves Klein–like butt prints in Kiss My Royal Irish Ass (K.M.R.I.A.), 1993, and erotically mouthed a banana stuck into a plastic bottle dangling from a wire in the Naumanesque video Graceful Phatsheba, 1993. Donegan’s recent work remains acidic, but has turned abstract. Lee Lozano’s “Wave” paintings of the late 1960s represented an attempt to undermine the contemporaneous dominance of nonrepresentational and minimalist art by positing the individualistic attitude associated with abstraction as already clichéd. Donegan shares Lozano’s iconoclasm in the face of abstraction, although hers extends to modernism entire.

For Donegan’s recent show, “Luxury Dust,” fourteen small paintings on flimsy sheets of cardboard replace moving images. Each of three discrete bodies of work represented toys with an unfinished look. In two works the cardboard ground is exposed; Donegan’s streaky handling of water-based oils is anything but virtuosic; and overhead fluorescents whitewash the gallery with the deadening light of a factory workshop. A group of vaguely Cubist-looking paintings of intersecting planes are explosions of clashing color, bright mash-ups of emerald green, peach, and various pinks (Favors [all works 2007]), or turquoise, yellow, black, and brown (The Hard Night). They flirt in equal parts with Liubov Popova’s planar shards, the visual puzzles of analytical Cubism, and the Concrete-style photography of Barbara Kasten. But while those artists eschew representation, Donegan either slips fragments of it into her paintings or alludes to it with titles like The Skirt or Untitled (Towels). Within a matrix of lavender, lime green, and black, the ghostly white negative space in Still Life with Fuckerball forms the outline of a baseball bat–wielding slugger, raising suspicion that the painting may be fashioned after some form of collectible sports memorabilia. In Ebay, meanwhile, a nondescript sculptural bust emerges from a field of gold. Judging from her titles and the bits of identifiable imagery in these works, Donegan appears intent on bridging the seemingly incompatible: abstraction and the illustration of items for display.

Luxury Dust (Gold) and Luxury Dust (Silver) are mirrors made of metallic tape adhered to cardboard, which Donegan has slashed, Lucio Fontana-like, transforming them into fragmented fields of cheap silver or gold, interrupted by cardboard plainly showing through. A trio of black-and-white paintings in the style of Franz Kline also remain within the realm of abstraction, but these breezily casual panels don’t seem to reference specific works—they could just as well represent digital images cropped and enlarged past the point of recognition.

In sum, Donegan’s exhibition consisted of damaged reflective monochromes, obtuse bichromes, and garish, visually dense polychromes, all with the aura of sketches or rough drafts. The slapdash look is doubtless intentional, and one wonders if Donegan is attempting a totalizing critique of modernism’s domination of the construction of aesthetic value (via Home Depot and IKEA) by debasing its styles. If so, she inhabits the paradigms subject to critique a little too closely. The transformation of a Fontana into hacked-at tape or a Picasso into a washy lump of bric-a-brac does lack loftiness, undoubtedly. It likewise lacks the personality and humor of Donegan’s earlier work.

Nick Stillman