David Coyle


In his recent book, Hotel Theory (2007), Wayne Koestenbaum writes, “Genres can be guests within other genres. A genre is a hotel in which other genres stay for the night.” Evidently in agreement with this observation, painter David Coyle has dedicated himself to interrupting the drive toward interpretive closure by hopping between, juxtaposing, and layering visual signifiers of genre. In his second solo exhibition at the now defunct 40000, Coyle demonstrated his dedication to combinatory experiment by marshaling elements of fantasy illustration, gestural abstraction, geometric composition, cartooning, portraiture, and text.

Coyle’s previous outings have been hampered by a tendency to allow this eclectic methodology to drift into technical showmanship; he has often devoted too much attention to the tools of his trade and not enough to his subjects. His recent paintings, however (a dozen new canvases were on display here, along with a single video), are less fussily executed, verging at times on the slapdash. This is a good thing, allowing the best of them to achieve a kind of awkward elegance. Keep out/Stay in (all works 2007), for example, is a small abstraction of alternately matte and glossy black bars that pulls the viewer close, making the most of the paint’s rich texture. Elsewhere, comic characters like the lazy-eyed monster of Nosferatu and the abstracted magician of . . . and then there was one. showcase Coyle’s playful faux-adolescent humor. Taken together, these two approaches present us with an artist who clearly enjoys the license to pick and choose from a range of extant subjects and styles.

In this show, Coyle’s magpie tendencies even extended to music, the unmistakable opening bars of Richard Strauss’s symphonic tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra echoing through the gallery from the artist’s video Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (Three Different Ones). After Strauss’s famous fanfare, accompanied by a close-up of a Peavey amplifier, images of a wizard, an ape, and a tin man appear in quick succession. All are the artist in cut-rate disguises, lip-synching to the deadpan voice of HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as it intones “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The voice fades out after fifty repetitions, leaving “Dave,” in wizard costume, silently spray-painting OK on a fluorescent wall, as if in acquiescence to aesthetic limbo.

Coyle’s choices here—Also Sprach Zarathustra, 2001, the tin man, the wizard, and the ape characters, even the Pink Floyd song referenced in the work’s title—either exemplify genre or offer tacit comment on the possibility or impossibility of transcending it. Coyle, like many young artists, packs such signifiers one atop the other atop the next, aiming to communicate meaning more through cumulative or collective effect than via individual works. If Koestenbaum’s genre hotel has a lounge, Coyle and company are holed up there for a party. Happily, we’re all invited.

Anthony Elms