New York

Matthew Brannon

Spike-heeled, peep-toed, platform-soled, or sling-backed, the gaily colored silhouettes of footwear in Matthew Brannon’s recent letterpress prints summon Andy Warhol’s late-1950s shoe drawings in dash and whimsy, if not function. Warhol’s shoes, used in ads, were among his earliest successes; Brannon’s illustrate failure. The paragraphs that appear below them voice the plaints of various urban subjects who are unlucky in love or unhappy at work, facing middle age in the middle distance, and dithering in stews of regret, jealousy, and alcohol. In Role Playing, 2008, lace boots are paired with the musings of a woman on a miserable date (I’LL NEVER GET OUT OF HERE), while in Dedication, 2008, pumps accompany recriminations addressed to an ex-lover, among them, AND WHEN I TOOK MY LAPTOP INSTEAD OF THE CAT FROM OUR BURNING APARTMENT, IT WASN’T MY WORST MISTAKE.

Fancy shoes join sushi and champagne in the repertoire of metropolitan-consumer signs that Brannon has depicted in the past several years, and his exceedingly smart second solo outing at Friedrich Petzel Gallery extended earlier critical gambits: picturing the commodity using a serial format but spurning its commercial logic by printing the works only once, and aping midcentury advertising’s crisp designs in image while fl outing its good looks in word. His texts, like the pithy dialogical devastations of Raymond Carver or Amy Hempel, go down easy and then twist the knife, often seeming, as T. J. Clark once wrote about Hans Hofmann’s paintings, “to be blurting out a dirty secret which the rest of the décor is conspiring to keep.” Such oscillations between taste and crassness resounded in the installation. The prints hang on stained oak rigs that are elemental to the work yet also reminiscent of structures intended, in other contexts, to be temporary and inconspicuous. Those painted black or shades of white are modest enough, but some are covered in a streaked, unabashedly tacky purple that gives the lie to their neutrality; these are apparatuses, after all, of the sort constructed for art-fair displays.

Brannon’s sensitivity to framing—his arrangement here alluding to consumer psychology, in the 2008 Whitney Biennial to a penthouse—was manifest throughout, with other objects registering the fluctuations between control and losing it that are operative in the prints themselves. A ladder-like wooden overhang built between the reception and gallery spaces might have remained unnoticed if not for a carved Styrofoam lightbulb suspended from one of its beams, just as the faint thrum generated by two sound-canceling devices, typically found in analysts’ offices, might have gone undetected if the machines hadn’t been noted on the checklist as a work (Not So Subtle Subtitle, 2008). Private pathologies always underpin public fronts, the artist suggests, and indeed even what might read as the best-behaved selections open onto latent content. Silk-screened grids of concentric circles bear titles including Cum Bucket and 3 on 1 (both 2008), turning the discs into adult DVDs and the back room in which they were shown into the exhibition’s red-light district, complete with its own crimson lightbulb sculpture. This was Brannon’s least representational project yet, and his shrewd takes on abstraction’s bent toward the decorative—tacking some prints to the wall, enclosing others in kitschy tomato-red frames—indicate a promising future direction.

For all of its confessional overtures, this show courted the theme of unavailability as readily as it did that of access. Twenty-five copies of Brannon’s novel Rat (2008) sat on a high shelf, nearly out of sight line, and the two blocky wall enamels exhibited (Not Necessary and Not Necessarily, both 2008) resemble the stretcher bars of paintings whose rectos are flat up against the wall. In what could be construed as a cautionary summa on the crazed profligacy of the contemporary art world, they imply that what is most desired remains not only out of reach but unknown in the first place.

Lisa Turvey