New York

Daphne Fitzpatrick

American Contemporary

To judge from her works’ titles, Daphne Fitzpatrick has a thing for vintage knockabout comedy—Abbott, Costello, Huey, Dewey, and Louie all got shout-outs in her recent exhibition “Whistle and Flute” (all works 2012). Formally, too, her art evokes a kind of cartoon surrealism, suggesting the contents of one of Wile E. Coyote’s shopping list for a visit to Acme—there was a wedge of plastic cheese on a handsaw, a giant key in a phony fireplace. And if we take at face value the non-sequitur list of names, facts, one-liners, and anecdotes issued in lieu of a press release, Fitzpatrick seems correspondingly averse to outwardly “serious” meaning, again channeling the Surrealists by privileging absurdity and illogic over coherence and consistency. As one item, quoting Preston Sturges, concludes: “A pratfall is better than anything.”

But there was more going on here than mere joking around (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Fitzpatrick is fascinated by the meandering way of the flaneur, specifically the urban dandy’s aesthetic preference for unconsidered trifles. Her practice is rooted, too, in radical feminism; she was included in such important recent group exhibitions as “Ridykeulous” at Participant Inc. in 2006 and “Shared Women” at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 2007. But as Helen Molesworth notes in her comparison of “Shared Women” to “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” 2007’s higher-profile look back at an earlier generation at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the “legitimate rage” manifest in the work of many artists from the 1960s and ’70s is largely absent from that of the current crop. What has taken its place, she observes, is precisely Fitzpatrick’s brand of visual and verbal wit.

The show’s title is Cockney rhyming slang for suit, a London connection that seems appropriate, given a certain correspondence in look and feel between Fitzpatrick’s work and that of YBA Sarah Lucas. Both artists make extensive use of found objects and images, particularly those of a crude or abject stripe, to tell off-kilter jokes about sex and gender. They even share a love of smoking imagery; where Lucas has constructed sculptures from cigarettes, Fitzpatrick repeatedly wields a Magritte-style pipe. In “Whistle and Flute,” this appeared as a wobbly silhouette excised from a sheet of foamcore, and as the real deal—stuck, almost invisibly, to the gallery’s redbrick backroom wall.

So heterogeneous was the work in the rest of the show that it’s hard to know where to pick up the tale. In the likes of Rubber Band and Burnt Stick and Studio Lock, craft is kept to an absolute minimum. The former is described completely by its title; the latter is a wooden paint stirrer screwed to the wall at its center point to produce a makeshift latch. Elsewhere, things got at least a little more materially complex, as the artist tweaked and recombined various appropriated bits and bobs, ultimately arriving at an exhibition as shaggy-dog story or insider riddle: What links the bedraggled sunflower and the battered musical instrument that dangle from a silver wire above a steel table in Trumpet and Weed? Why is a papier-mâché book sitting atop a Kodak paper box titled Credit, Disney World? And what does an image of a five-spot being spread on a piece of bread have to do with the price of fish? Fitzpatrick demurs, instead giving the last line to Chris Farley: “Basically, I only play one character; I just play him at different volumes.”

Michael Wilson