New York


Salon 94 | Freemans

Carter’s lack of transparency about his name has garnered its fair share of critical attention, with biography (or, more precisely, its lack of specificity; it is no secret that his first name is John, but what does that tell us?) functioning in determined lockstep with the work itself. Indeed, the evasions of his self-proclaimed “anonymous portraits” and their combinatory, exquisite corpse–like logic serve as Carter’s imprimatur. All the more surprising, then, to discover Carter in conversation with curator Matthew Higgs in a recent catalogue disclosing early memories that bear fairly directly on the above. Carter’s revelation that his childhood neighbor Betty Kripinsky remained an active presence after her death through uncanny surrogate wig stands in the form of foam heads is almost too pitch-perfect. Here is Carter: “The foam heads had detailed faces drawn on them with ball-point pen and the makeup that had once belonged to her. Henry [her husband] kept these heads on top of a tall cabinet. . . . We were never sure whether Henry had drawn the faces on these heads, or if Betty had done it for practice. Nevertheless, they were unsettling facsimiles of Betty that continued to exist after her death.”

This would seem to give away Carter’s game were it not for the fact that his second solo show at Salon 94 Freemans, “And Within Area Although” (itself an echo of “And, It, the, Constant, Although,” his exhibition at London’s Hotel gallery earlier this year) is finally less about identity as such—its permutations, peregrinations, and so on—than about how it operates in and through architectural space. A subtle shift, to be sure, since the appropriated interiors that swell to fill his large grayscale paintings are still modish ciphers; the lives of these rooms and the residual traces of their inhabitants, too, materialize as the marks and erasures of pentimenti and stand in for an idea of (raffish, by turns distantiated) portraiture.

What appear to be film sets or old-fashioned interiors (think 1940s and ’50s modern with Rococo furnishings) form digitally altered and collaged photographic backgrounds for And Within Area Although #1 and And Within Area Although #2 (all works 2009), upon which Carter builds intricately worked surfaces. These and other works, including the Mad Men–ish office in 1955, 1978, 1981, Area and the images self-consciously engaging sculpture—e.g., Item Placed in Area (Unfolding Abstract Modern Sculpture) and 1942, 1955, 1977, 2009, Portrait of a Thoughtful Abstraction with Arranged Interior and Modern Sculpture, which both feature a generic, corporate office park–worthy blob—are pockmarked with doodlings, curlicue lines, Jackson Pollock drips, and collaged elements. Most notably, painted brushstrokes are stuck to many supports, a nod to Roy Lichtenstein, who himself sent up Abstract Expressionism’s bathos in pieces such as the iconic Little Big Painting, 1965, by isolating the stroke—onetime guarantor of libidinal investment, among other things—and rendering it mechanistic (not to mention an abstract form in its own right).

Similarly taking simulation as its cue, Likeness, a sculptural ensemble installed alongside these wall works, features a life-size portrait head in glossy obsidian stationed (replete with prosthetic blown-glass eyes, apparently a real collector’s item, sourced from eBay) on a three-tiered support that also serves as a repository for electric candles, glass orbs, and folded fabric trimmed with a homespun border. So Carter hasn’t left the anonymous portrait behind entirely. In fact, one painting, The Past 100 Years, highlights a woman, albeit a distinctly masculine-looking one—the first in Carter’s cast of characters. Which is to suggest that despite Carter’s apparent forthrightness elsewhere, this show, if more coy than equivocating, didn’t quite give up the ghost.

Suzanne Hudson