“It’s a mean humor, so it’s a critical joy. You know, it’s negative joy. But that’s art, I think—for me, at least.” Mike Kelley, describing Day is Done to Art21 in 2005
Echoes of mourning for the late Mike Kelley, who died early last week in Los Angeles, were piling up in art columns and Facebook pages as Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s show opened at Corbett vs. Dempsey, its title and timing, in her words, “a weird and sad and wonderful coincidence.” The emphatic paradox in Kelley’s phrase finds itself in Zuckerman-Hartung’s work, where aggression and elation towards culture, semiotics and avant-garde traditions manifest themselves in a plurality of styles and materials. Sculptural paintings (and a few painted sculptures,) supported by glitter, grout, Plexiglas, nails, clippings of porn, studio objects, and even catalogs of the show, make up her “Negative Joy” in an engaging frenzy of thoughtful messiness.
Paint—in all applications and interruptions—is a constant, with abstraction and representation meeting at unexpected and unresolved occasions. A silver handsaw corrals a crowded solar system on an inky abyss in Balancing my Mixed Metaphors. A sharp, incised stroke in Equilibrium is a precursor to death, dated, like several others, over a span of years, reveals a rainbow stripe of painted layers that suggest evolutions on the canvas; the artist gathers momentum, piling up, until the piece is finally finished. Colorful paint is maximized in Components of living systems self-organize, a composition that has a hint of Kandinsky, and minimized in Copy, Cut and Paste, where a semi-circle is sliced into the linen and “trash” is attached, in homage to Lucio Fontana and his fellow artists of Arte Povera. Artistic influences from the late-19th and 20th century web in all directions, as Zuckerman-Hartung blends modernisms and postmodernisms seemingly on a whim, but actually with carefully constructed philosophical backings and admired traditions that range from Sartre to Sargent, Kant to Kaprow. I get the feeling she's read more books than I have.
Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. Extending. 2009 - 11. Oil, shells, tile grout, latex and collage on canvas. 14” x 11”. Image courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
Convolutions abound in Anti-Expeditious, the multi-media pièce de résistance dominating the space. In this studio-like scene, individual paintings are hung on a canvas that is a tapestry of splatters and stains. Bringing the studio in the gallery allows for paintbrushes and source photos to be revered and revealed in metallic paint, or hung as a mobile off of a shelf made from drafting tools. A jury-rigged paintbrush is comically long, bending like a wand that conducts the magic and madness below. Across the gallery, small paintings are organized like the results of this chaotic studio scene. One pair is linked by shreds of painted canvas, making me wonder if they were conceived together or the impulse came later. Or if it matters.
“I try to think dialectically, so I am in constant argument and collusion with the forces I encounter,” Zuckerman-Hartung says, which is apparent in both the large and small scale works in her show. Representation sneaks in awkwardly, and images of hands, some painted, others culled from old arts and crafts books, form a minor motif. One hand grows from a lightning bolt-shaped arm in Extending, perhaps as a symbol of the tactile nature of Zuckerman-Hartung’s work, and her critical, yet playful examinations of making. In Venomous, with four pairs of arms, an octopus is suspended in black glitter, arms curled around a vintage magazine photograph of a sexual embrace; another erotic photo of gartered legs sits in line with more images of hands.
"What do I desire? To be female in this world, to be marketed to, to be an object, and then to be made into a consumer, and finally getting to the octopus, realizing that you can’t be everything, you can’t have everything,” she states in the catalog interview with John Corbett. Zuckerman-Hartung accepts her tentacles are reaching every which way, and lets them latch on to different moments in individual paintings.
-Mia DiMeo, ArtSlant Staff Writer
(Top image: Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. Necessary Convolutions. 2007-11. Oil, enamel, spray paint and Plexiglas on canvas. 36" x 32". Image courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.)