June 24-July 31, 2004: BEAUTIFUL GROTESQUE curated with Anjali Suneja at Riva Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, New York

Reed Anderson, Hans Bellmer, Jeanne Dunning, Philip Guston, Mike Kelley, Tony Matelli, David Nicholson, Leemour Pelli, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, Rotem Tashach, Ginna Triplett, Joel-Peter Witkin

This exhibition is about the ambivalent nature of desire, and addresses a common fascination with the range of psychological associations attached to the body, complicated by the theme of otherness. This involves both our acceptance of mundane physical appearance versus another as yet unheralded presence, a dream body, through which we may project either an idealistic or a depraved version of our own self-image. Otherness occupies a world beyond sensation that is contingent to both death and decay and to a sort of totemic reality which overrides the spectator's ability to see themselves in the work of art. The degree of fascination inherent in the aesthetic event is qualified equally by the subject at hand and our ability to comprehend the overwhelming force of its idiosyncrasy.

The “Morgue” photographs of Andres Serrano present dead bodies as objects of aesthetic delectation, and though we may feel an immediate repulsion when faced with them, it is either the absence of vitality or the presence of death which affronts us, and we keep looking to see what remains to make them so compelling as images. This is also the case with “Food” by Jeanne Dunning, in which the artist presents us with an image of visceral matter that resembles intestines, but does so in such a ritualized and tender, almost elegiac manner that we are hard pressed to respond merely with disgust, but must admit that she had made them beautiful. In an image of Cindy Sherman, we are presented with a large dining table set for an elaborate meal though surrounded by a foreboding darkness. At the seat directly before us, the plate is filled with a squirming mass of fleshy earthworms. If this were our meal, clearly we would be unable to partake. But Sherman means to portray a situation in which the unconscious is tapped through reference to a powerful animistic symbol, a burrower in the deep earth, and therefore in the subconscious.

Alternately, we may be challenged by images of a symbolic nature which do not naturally reduce themselves into a logical form. Reed Anderson develops a visually complex image with multiple associations, at once connected to nightmares, mining the unconscious. While presenting its imagery as a pastiche of the fanciful and the decorative, he denies the order of perspective by creating one object as a combination of all visual events in a picture at once. Tony Matelli’s “The Wanderer” presents us with autobiography as fabulation, with the body of the artist on a quest through barren lands, accompanied by his anthropological familiars, a pack of small monkeys. Though the scene may seem mundane in detail, the manner of depiction, a life-sized golem of the artist’s own appearance, narrating an experience well beyond the bounds of his role as an artist, and therefore injects our sense of reality with an absurdity that compels us to regard it as grotesque. The same is true of Philip Guston, whose hooded figures are found driving a roll top auto on a serene day trip, the details of their humdrum existence a foil to the mystery of their identities.

The images in this exhibition incite a sensation that reaches us on a level far deeper than reason. The efficacy of their existence as art works is proof of their power over us.