View of “Pamela Rosenkranz,” 2014.

View of “Pamela Rosenkranz,” 2014.

Pamela Rosenkranz

Karma International

View of “Pamela Rosenkranz,” 2014.

Eleven matte aluminum sheets were leaning against the walls of the gallery, which were covered from floor to ceiling with thin transparent plastic sheeting, making the space resemble something like a cross between a construction site and a quarantine ward. The natural light coming in through the gallery’s big display windows was rivaled by blue and red beams emanating from six projectors placed on the floor, which reflected as two differing horizontal strips on the aluminum surfaces. The sheets’ surfaces had been smeared with various fleshy hues of thin, drippy semitranslucent polyester paint that had a fast, sweaty feeling. Drops and tears of it could be found not only running down the pale metal planes as thin skins, thickening the infrathin interface of mere reflection, but scattered on the trodden, glistening layer of transparent plastic film on the floor: The paintings, it seemed, were actually made here on-site. And as the series’ title, “Sexual Power (Viagra Paintings),” 2014, suggests, Pamela Rosenkranz prepared for their making by taking a dose of the remedy for erectile dysfunction.

If modernist abstraction has banished the representation of the human image from painting, it could also be argued that the figure returned in the guise of painting’s physical support, which as mere object has revealed itself as a stand-in for the anthropomorphic. Rosenkranz’s aluminum sheets appear to take up this tradition: They are approximately human height, and the artist has painted them with both hands to give them a discernible left and right. And the reflected, colored light of the projectors inscribes on them even a kind of planetary horizon. Yet the paintings transpose this whole complex of bodily orientation to a merely medical, even somatic register. In fact, sildenafil, Viagra’s main chemical agent, opens the blood vessels of the male member. But in order to effect an erection, it always needs the constitution of an object of desire. Sildenafil therefore leaves the field of sexual libido, but not sex itself, untouched. By taking the pill, Rosenkranz enacted a strategic squandering that underscores the fact that her own female sexuality has been left out of the equation. This is why the show’s title, “My Sexuality,” can only be read as a form of negation. However, at the core of her work might be a rather different concern. If the value of art has been historically tied to a predominantly male virility, it could also be degraded by an etiological reading that would explicate it as a mere effect of biochemical events. The repetitions of a certain cliché of Abstract Expressionism in these paintings, made under the effects of medication, support a reading of them as such pathological objects. Yet the dystopian sexuality the paintings thus articulate appears to be severed from the history and structure of the unconscious. The skins they endlessly materialize as smears of paint no longer imply anything underneath. The phantasm they speak of is rather a sexuality without fetishism: no rubber dolls, just drugs.

The last and most elusive element of the exhibition pointed most strongly to such a perspective. Dispersed by the projectors’ heat were artificially synthesized pheromones of the civet cat—one of the oldest known ingredients in perfume.While humans certainly have a long history of deploying the smells of other animals to aid in seduction, new research points to another aspect of this libidinal prosthetic. Rodents whose brains have been infected by the parasitic illness toxoplasmosis appear to lose their instinctual repulsion regarding these particular feline pheromones. Instead, they become fatally attracted to their predator’s smell. The cat, after having killed and eaten the rodent, becomes itself the new host of the parasitical monad, which can neither die nor desire. There are, it seems, hints that humans infected by the parasite also react differently to the odor. To affirm such an anamorphic perspective on sexual desire—the perspective of the protozoan—in order to hollow out the human subject: This is the threadbare form of painting practiced by Rosenkranz.

Simon Baier