New York

Luis Gispert

Mary Boone Gallery/Zach Feuer Gallery

A hand with pink painted nails reaches across a cluttered nightstand, pops open a pill bottle, then latches onto a glass of bourbon. And so we meet Nora, the overbearing mother of Waylon, an eleven-year-old who wets his pants (“four times this week”). Nora and Waylon are the main characters in Luis Gispert’s video Smother, 2006–2007, the centerpiece of the artist’s recent two-part exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery and Zach Feuer Gallery. In the film, which is set in 1980s Miami, mother and son inhabit a pastel palace decorated with etched mirrors, Art Deco sconces, and Patrick Nagel prints. Bequeathed to them by Waylon’s drug-dealing father, the home is a baroque setting equal parts Miami Vice and Versailles.

For the opening shot, the camera pans down from a thicket of potted palms to a concrete backyard with grass sprouting from its gridded cracks. We then see Nora fretting about her son’s growth (she recounts a dream, her “worst nightmare,” in which Waylon has become so large she must shrink him in the clothes dryer) and his incontinence (perhaps a little snip-snip is in order, she suggests with her fingers). Indeed, Waylon’s movement constitutes a tight circuit within his home and around its queen, to be broken only when, in a couple of magical narrative turns, he changes into a German shepherd that ultimately—after being dropped into a turkey fryer by Carl, a pig slaughterer who has been flirting with Nora—births a ghetto blaster. In this latest form, “Waylon” is handed over to Rastafarians waiting on a truck bed: an escape, of sorts.

Waylon (as boy) is the primary subject of five of the six lush photographs displayed in the back gallery at Mary Boone, where the video was also on view. He picks daisies from his bike, lies in a pool of his own urine, and stands near a flock of pink lawn flamingoes. The sole picture featuring Nora shows her looking out from a wraparound terrace, a small figure nearly lost to the enormous house surrounding her. She is presented as someone lacking something, not only physically (her right foot is missing half a toe) but also emotionally, as her vain attempts to keep Waylon in her grip suggest. Escape is glimpsed for her as well, through the figure of Carl, who describes himself as a “big man” and, in tattoos, “hot Carl.” What makes the film especially unsettling is the suggestive thread of mother controlling (to the point of consuming) son running through scenes that shift from real to hyperreal to surreal.

The mise-en-scène at Zach Feuer, with its Pepto-Bismol–colored rug and pink and gray diagonal lines painted on the walls, captured some of the insular quality of the film’s setting. While they are not actual props, the exhibited objects—heart-shaped speakers; a mirror with purple neon lights; a coffee-table sculpture combining two bifurcated German shepherds, a video-game system, and Newport cigarette packaging—riff on the film’s content. The two photographs on view depict pimped-out truck interiors, shot at a convention in Las Vegas, digitally merged with a film still of speakers (from Smother), the ruins of Machu Picchu, and guerrilla fighters, in one, and a desolate California mining town and army desert training site in the other: Technicolor statements on the class warfare that lies beneath the opulence portrayed in the film.

Kyle Bentley