David Kramer is the kind of artist you might expect to find applying for a residency at a bar. At least that’s the first impression his artwork makes; here’s a boozy joker with a knack for snappy anecdotes and a taste for the bawdy. In truth, Kramer’s output is far too ample for anyone putting in serious time at a drinking establishment. His recent show, The Hangover…Too, included drawings, paintings, sculpture, and installation. Seriously. It’s been a long time since I visited a solo exhibition that felt more like a quadrathalon.
Kramer, a New York City native born in the early years of the hippie, earned an MFA in sculpture when he was twenty-four (1987), which may help explain the three-dimensional sensibility penetrating everything he does. Contextualizing his work within the physical space it occupies is something Kramer comes by naturally. In this instance that meant installing a wine cellar and a shelf of two-buck-Chuck bottles, whose labels he replaced with comical ink and watercolor drawings. Options included “Gowanus River Reserve,” “The Pro’s Pro, for when you’re not fucking around,” and the one that must have been difficult not to pop the cork on, “Gallery Opening, when only ALOT will do.” He also put a fake fire in the fireplace and turned on the garish pink neon lights, left over from the jeweler who previously owned the space, that circumvent the ground floor windows. Creating an atmosphere is part of what Kramer does best.
Certain works have their own atmospheric conditioning. Both his 70’s Porn Painting (2011) and After Party Painting (2011) come with personalized light sources. Porn Painting, which pictures a disconsolate dude holding the hand of a bikini-clad cutie in an infinity pool overlooking a tropical beach, is bathed by bars of red and white neon situated on the floor below the canvas. The painting’s predominantly cool hues catch the warm light and soften considerably. A caption across the top of the canvas reads, “I keep hanging on to the hope that eventually my life will take on a story line that resembles 70’s porn…” It’s a tough one to negotiate because the text seems so trite, yet the figures in the painting look so sad, like letting a spilt drink depress you on your honeymoon.
There is no skirting the fact that Kramer’s paintings, and especially his drawings, could be the marriage of Raymond Pettibon and Richard Prince. His illustrative technique—complete only what’s necessary for the image—comes out of the former, his wise cracks from the latter. Is it not totally Princian to crib a goofy title (The Hangover…Too) from a corny Hollywood movie? Thankfully, Kramer’s upfront about this. In one piece the question is posed as to why, if Kramer’s work looks so much like Richard Prince, he can’t charge Prince prices. Answer: because Kramer’s dealer isn’t Gagosian.
It would be a mistake, however, to write Kramer off as a two-bit dick-joke thinker. He’s not. He’s much more sensitive than Prince, really. His anecdotes, multicolored text executed on quality cotton rag, address some real concerns—prostate cancer, using Facebook to find old flings—of aging males. For all his outward irony Kramer can be pretty self-effacing, and when it’s done successfully it truly curries empathy.
In one anecdote Kramer writes of a trip to Mexico City. He brings a barely educated taxi driver into an art fair and is surprised when the kid understands his work immediately. When he digs into the pretension that enabled his preconception Kramer gets brutally honest and painfully real. He shows that half the time we write people off, we aren’t even aware that we’re doing it. The paradox is that Kramer’s relentless self-consciousness might actually be a form of self-awareness. In a world where you can only know yourself in the context of others, Kramer pays deep attention to himself, and in so doing connects deeply into a broad, albeit mostly male, collective narrative.
~Charles Schultz, a writer living in New York.
Images: Easy to Please, 2011, ink and pencil on paper; 70s Porn Painting, 2011, mixed media. Courtesy Mulherin + Pollard.