New York

Jack Pierson, Hang On to Your Ego No. 3, 1997, acrylic lacquer on canvas, 84 × 112".

Jack Pierson, Hang On to Your Ego No. 3, 1997, acrylic lacquer on canvas, 84 × 112".

Jack Pierson

Maccarone | 630 Greenwich Street

Jack Pierson, Hang On to Your Ego No. 3, 1997, acrylic lacquer on canvas, 84 × 112".

Jack Pierson’s recent show, presented in collaboration with Cheim & Read, brought together ten works the artist created between 1997 and 2002. Although the artist calls these pieces “paintings,” they are, in fact, amalgams of painting, photography, and film; Pierson took photos and video stills and enlisted a billboard-production company to print the pictures on canvas using acrylic lacquer. There are grainy renderings of the surface of water, a swarm of jellyfish, brilliantly pink flowers, Courtney Love’s shiny, lipstick-besmirched mouth. Most explicitly erotic is a series of close-ups of the lips of a man in the throes of ecstasy, derived from performance-art documentation of the guy masturbating. (This video was also on view, albeit coyly placed behind the gallery’s front desk.)

These are not seamless renderings; rather, they exhibit red, green, blue, and yellow rasters. As a result, we have a continuation of Pierson’s interest in distortion—also evident in works such as Afternoon Nap, 1995 (not on view here)—as a means by which to induce feelings of nostalgia and pathos. The works in “Paintings” recall an obsolete television screen displaying a paused VHS tape—everything appears to be trembling, and if you look closely, the picture you thought was an image breaks down. Pierson presents a moment of in-between, where the story has stopped and we see the capacity of the narrative either to continue or to end with the pressure of a finger on the eject button.

The frenetic, pixelated surfaces even resemble skin, with small pockmarks coming together to create a tenuous whole. The red smeared-and-stained abstraction Canvas Dyed with Hibiscus Tea, Salt, and Candle Wax Left to Dry in the Sun, 2001, evokes a bloody Miró, and reminds us of the unabashedly corporeal roots of Pierson’s oeuvre. This abstract work retains the erotics of the artist’s portraits, but a transformation has occurred, and the body has been recoded. Around the Well, 2001, is reminiscent of the 1992 photograph taken by Felix Gonzalez-Torres of flowers around the grave of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Both Gonzalez-Torres and Pierson, in different ways, distill representations of the body to their most basic, but nevertheless conceptually and erotically replete, elements.

What is perhaps most interesting is his use of media, which opens up a space in which we may consider the mutable nature of the image and the body. This of course chimes with theorizations of queerness as a constant state of flux and liminality—a state that allows us to think anew. Pierson enacts a process of translation, a kind of drag that signifies not only in terms of the images’ relationship to his source material but also with regard to the queer space approximated between disparate media and different worlds. Despite a critical insistence on the sorrow in Pierson’s work, there is always joy in his appeal to another time, another place, and other possibilities for sexual life.

William J. Simmons