View of “Bruno Peinado,” 2011.

View of “Bruno Peinado,” 2011.

Bruno Peinado

Galerie Loevenbruck

View of “Bruno Peinado,” 2011.

Half a century after the beginnings of Pop art, French artist Bruno Peinado has reenergized the punchy midcentury aesthetic, complicating it with visual play and verbal pun. In an interview with Patrice Joly, published in the catalogue accompanying “Casino Incaos,” Peinado’s exhibition last year at Casino Luxembourg, the artist is clear that he “was interested in Pop not because [he] wanted to make neo-Pop Art, but because the world was displaying this great interest in the notion of popular culture.” In the original French version of their conversation, Peinado refers to la notion du populaire, employing a term with different connotations than the English “popular culture.” For example, the French describes certain urban neighborhoods as populaire, as opposed to chic or bourgeois; these adjectives can of course both attract and repel. In this context, Peinado’s embrace of the populaire is not only an embrace of the visual and commercial mainstream, as we understand the American term popular culture, but also a reference to a contested site of political and social tension.

Peinado was born in France. His mother is from the Caribbean island of Martinique, and his father a Moroccan-born pied noir. This “Creole” biography underwrites Peinado’s aesthetic, and his recent show “French but Fresh” played with national and ethnic identities. Untitled, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times (all works 2010), hung outside, above the gallery’s mirrored façade, consists of eleven flags: the first in France’s official blue, white, and red tricolor, and then the rest each successively dyed 10 percent lighter, with the last one a solid white. Peinado has said that he is “interested in [the] primacy of language over image,” noting that “we always approach pictures via words.” And thus this piece, if entered through its subtitle, is an interrogation of self and context. Elaborating the words via the physical object, Peinado orchestrates the surrender of both national symbol and personal identity.

Inside the gallery, there was perhaps more work installed than would typically be advised. But this thick presentation, and the subsequent visual collision of works, created a space that resonated with Peinado’s project—at times a veritable battle of images, signification, and innuendo. Reiterating the stuffed-to-almost-bursting look of the whole exhibition, Untitled, Kinky Afro, a gloved, Disneyesque hand clenched into a fist, protruded from a wooden box at the center of the space. Leaning against the back wall, Untitled, Lo fi Studiolo, a plank sculpture reminiscent of a John McCracken piece, was inlaid with a splatter-mark-shaped piece of stained wood. On a nearby wall, Peinado stretched wide a smiley face and changed its classic yellow complexion to white for Untitled, Les Ambassadeurs. Meanwhile, a white plaster classical bust atop a tall white plinth (Untitled, By All Means Necessary) wore blackface and had a menacing bright red smile. Untitled, Love Long Distance, a resin sculpture of an immense red apple, with a viscous candylike resin coating melting into a ghoulish face, echoed the look of oozing decay in Untitled, Who’s Afraid of Red, White and Blue, After Kintera. Referencing the work Red is Coming II, 2008, by Kris˘tof Kintera, Peinado’s sculpture replicates the contemporary Czech artist’s shiny resin dollop that appears to seep from the gallery wall. While Kintera’s work is a post-Communist red, Peinado uses the French national colors as if draining them from the flags hanging outside. Fusing his Pop heritage with an Eastern European brand of social commentary, Peinado maintains a sense of humor about his own work, which is at once highly finished and aggressively polemic.

Lillian Davies