“First Class / Second Class” at Asya Geisberg Gallery is a group show that exudes irreverence and spunkiness as it considers but does not offer any resolute answers to questions about class structures and society. The exhibition combines photography, sculpture, drawings, paintings, and mixed media works.
Holly Jarrett’s Pig’s Palace (2011) is an odd playhouse or a makeshift gallery constructed from raw industrial materials and magazine cutouts. A collage of images covers the panels, including wallpaper patterns, floral stickers, Matisse reproductions, and posters of Justin Bieber. There’s something unsettling about the whole construction. Are we entering the hormone-addled mindscape of a character like Glee’s Brittany Pierce or, as the title suggests, a pigsty of contemporary pop-culture—a ramshackle assault to the senses?
Pig’s Palace poses an intriguing juxtaposition to Miles Ladin’s black and white photographs of society gatherings, á la Weegee’s The Critic. Ladin’s subjects are the well-dressed genteel, snarling and bleached by the stark flash of a camera as they pose at an art show (Nan Kempner at the International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show, 1995). In the company of Brian Shumway’s portraits of young women donning fashion poses in brightly colored attire amidst the gray of parking lots and fire escapes, Ladin’s wrinkly bunch seems trapped and out of time.
Rebecca Morgan’s woodland posse is also a ways off from the upper-class highfalutin that Ladin is critiquing. Her portraits, however, are not New York stereotypes; they’re redneck stereotypes, funny and self-deprecating. Think “drive to the backwoods and strum the gee-tar.” These drawings/paintings on panel and paper feature Americana maenads, pimply, heavy-browed, and in need of a good dentist. Morgan, who hails from western Pennsylvania, seems to be having a ridiculously good time poking fun at herself with these cartoon self-portraits.
More difficult to view are Chris Verene’s series of photographs that depict his own relatives who, according to the gallery, live in a downtrodden community in Middle America. The accompanying phrase for each photograph describes the content of the image in a matter-of-fact way that comes across as emotionally detached.
Images: Ruben Natal-San Miguel, Glamour Break Diva 2009, Harlem, NYC, 2009, Chromogenic Metallic Print, 20 x 24 inches; Brian Shumway, Giovonni, 24. Collingswood, NJ, 2009 Digital C-print 16 x 20 inches; Rebecca Morgan, Twin Blue Ribbon Bumpkins #1, 2011, Graphite and oil on panel, 6 x 6 inches. Courtesy the artists and Asya Geisberg Gallery.