Lisa Lapinski, Christmas Tea = Meeting, presented by Dialogue and Humanism, formerly Dialectics and Humanism, 2007
GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT
Curated by Bruce Hainley
Casey Kaplan Gallery
Jeff Burton, Brian Calvin, Lecia Dole-Recio, Trisha Donnelly, Vincent Fecteau, Richard Hawkins, Roger Hiorns, Jasper Johns, Larry Johnson, William E. Jones, George Kuchar, Lisa Lapinski, Sturtevant, Mitchell Syrop
Oh God how I hate penny in the slot thoughts and actions, and oh God what terrible harm they cause. If I live I will call my next and last book There is no penny and no slot and if you pinch that title or variations I’ll climb up to your window and give you nightmares. (This is a joke.)
Anyway there is no penny for the slots. Not for writing or the black versus white question—the lies that are told—or for anything at all that matters. Only for lies. Yet everybody believes in the non existent penny and the invisible slot. So what to do? -Jean Rhys, from a letter, 1963
Jean Rhys’ novel, Good Morning, Midnight, was first published in 1939.
While I wish to pay homage to her novel, its staunch mood and mode, its indifference and bleak humor in an uncertain moment, in the show, which is no illustration, I also wish to consider any given medium used against itself and the rapidity with which one thing, form or action, becomes another. That said, there is no penny and no slot.
Holland Cotter (New York Times):
This mostly Californian group show is the brainchild of the estimable Los Angeles-based art critic Bruce Hainley. And it feels a little like his writing: smart, buzzy, mordant, uncanonical, the kind of writing that makes most of the rest of us sound like uptight schoolteachers. In “Good Morning, Midnight” — the title is from a Jean Rhys novel — Mr. Hainley sends up a few thematic balloons, but he keeps them light and drifting. Sex is one theme, but it’s oblique. Jasper Johns’s “Tantric Detail” is basically an abstract drawing that happens to have genitals. Jeff Burton’s photograph of a pornographic movie shoot keeps the action mostly off camera. William E. Jones’s short videos made from cut-and-splice bits of vintage pre-AIDS pornography are primarily mental turn-ons, metaphysical meditations. He’s a majorly underknown artist. The show has a glamour thread, too, or maybe anti-glamour, but either way it’s unemphatic. In Larry Johnson’s “Untitled (The Thinking Man’s Judy Garland)” (1999-2000), neither Garland nor anyone else is in evidence. An installation by Lisa Lapinski carries a hefty theory- studies title: “Christmas Tea=Meeting, Presented by Dialogue and Humanism, Formerly Dialectics and Humanism.” But the piece itself just looks breezily enigmatic. Enigmatic — lighter than mysterious — is the word I’d also use for work by Vincent Fecteau, Richard Hawkins, Trisha Donnelly and Roger Hiorns, all artists I like. And I’m glad to see Mitchell Syrop here, with a text painting that reads “There’s No Device to Record It” but gives no hint of what “it” might be. The best for last, though: the filmmaker George Kuchar, author, with his twin brother, Mike, of “Reflections From a Cinematic Cesspool,” director of “Ascension of the Demonoids,” in which sex, anti-glamour and many other imponderables meet. When the day arrives — and it will — to appoint an official United States cultural ambassador to Outer Space, Mr. Kuchar is the obvious choice. I will say no more. See his films. He is beyond enigmatic. He is “it.” I salute him.
Katie Sonnenborn (Frieze):
For ‘Good Morning, Midnight’ Los Angeles-based critic Bruce Hainley united a group of mostly West Coast artists, many of whom have rarely shown in New York. His title comes from Jean Rhys’ eponymous novel, written in 1939, which she herself had appropriated from a line in an Emily Dickinson poem, and the works Hainley chose have similarly associative relationships. The show, however, was no illustration of Rhys’ chronicles of her alcohol-infused life in and around Paris in the years before World War II. Rather, Hainley attempted to capture the multifaceted complexity of the novel, a story painting a dark and witty picture of that uncertain era in restrained and limpid prose. He also created a visual articulation of the smart, effervescent and unorthodox writing style for which he himself is known. The show opened with a mesmerizing trio: a luscious Jeff Burton photograph of a So-Cal porn scene where gay sex vies with the scintillation of mid-century Modernist décor; a hanging sculpture by Roger Hiorns in which fibrous steroids are delicately contained within two reflective triangular crystals; and a comical video triptych by Sturtevant about porn for toy animals. Blown out by the bright summer sunlight flooding the gallery’s glazed entrance, the trio foreshadowed topics that would be spun out in the exhibition: sex, glamour, magic and abstraction. In the next gallery a fifth theme, religion, was introduced, and one began to sense the political subtext lying beneath the surface of summer fun. Reflecting Rhys’ oblique treatment of fascism and xenophobia, Hainley chose artists who address sober issues without belabouring the darkness or over-determining answers. Jasper Johns is one of the show’s elder statesmen, an artist whose radical approaches in the 1950s continue to play out with relevance and tact, and elegantly engage issues of homosexuality played out elsewhere, including William E. Jones’ Film Montages (for Peter Roehr) (2006). In his monochrome charcoal print Tantric Detail (1980) a skull, a scrotum and a chain evoking both semen and rosary beads, among other things, co-exist within his elegiac chevron pattern and manage to be both elegant and crude. Lisa Lapinski echoed the complexity of family values and religion in Christmas Tea = Meeting, Presented by Dialogue and Humanism, formerly Dialectics and Humanism (2007), a bleakly humorous sculptural assemblage where swastikas, crosses and Stars of David intermingle with less loaded patterns in a lattice fence. Hiorns’ work was a high point of the show, and the four distinct sculptures provided a mini-exhibition for the British artist’s New York début. In Before the Rain (2003) models of Notre-Dame and Ulm cathedrals were dipped in copper sulphate to create a crystalline blue surface. The replicas were then shelved in a cabinet of red glass, Perspex, wood, paper and tape, materials that recall Donald Judd and reflect Hiorns’ reconsideration of the principles of Minimalism. In turn, Joy (2003) came from a series of steel sculptures sprayed with perfume, the stained metal plank leaning insouciantly in the corner opposite an unlikely scatter piece made of contact lenses – two silly situations that unfold into seductive alchemical shifts. Hiorns’ unlikely material treatment also unveils unexpected characteristics such as beauty, fragility and a deep sense of melancholy. Lecia Dole-Recio’s elegant abstract collages share these concerns by exploring the metes and bounds of a restrained palette and a limited vocabulary of arcs, ellipses, slices and slivers. Her gestural geometries are echoed and articulated by Vincent Fecteau’s strange and unusual papier-mâché maquette. Curiously, much of his object’s presence is achieved through Fecteau’s surface treatment of the bulbous forms and the mottled pattern of pinky-orange and black paint that he applies by hand. These literal fingerprints resonated in Larry Johnson’s Untitled (Land without Bread) (1999–2000), where the artist’s imprint is used to obscure portions of the frame. In these instances one picks up on Hainley’s tenet that material is not the measure, as well as his admiration for artists who use a medium against itself. Richard Hawkins’ Polaroids in Study for Sculpture (1997) presented another example: table-top towers of household junk that function as sketches for sculptures. The show came together in the work of the maverick artist and filmmaker George Kuchar. Watercolour portraits of the cult sci-fi and horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft (1977) and the apocryphal (but sometimes glimpsed) Mothman (1982) injected a peculiar, alien spirit into the exhibition. They also demonstrated Kuchar’s brilliant use of colour and shed light on the way he manipulates his palette to articulate scenes in his films. But the stylistic similarities with strains of American Realism, particularly the over-the-top colours and distorted perspectives of artists such as the folksy Thomas Hart Benton, underscore the abstraction encoded within representation. Mostly, it is Kuchar’s eccentricity, his passion and belief that strange encounters make us more human, that illuminates the self-confident curiosity among the works here. Inspired by Rhys’ bold and uncompromising voice, Hainley presented a group of artists who powerfully challenge our expectations of material, form and subject.