Freud’s Mouth exhibition was featured on Akimbo.
Hamishi Farah, Untitled, 2016, acrylic on canvas
Curator Ebony L. Haynes (also the director of NYC’s Martos Gallery) says the work she gathered for Freud’s Mouth, a group exhibition that is closing any minute now at Cooper Cole Gallery, is “not your mom’s 1993 identity art” and that stung for a moment because I felt like my generation (or the generation moments before my generation – our older siblings) was getting slighted. And then I realized I bemoan identity art from the early nineties too, so all was good again. But I still had to wrap my head around the new millennium ID art I was looking at and figure out what it had to do with Freud’s oral fixation (cigar smoking, thumb sucking, fingernail biting, and all that).
When I picture the art from twenty-five years ago, I see scrappy VHS videos on CRT monitors and clinically organized installations with piles of things that would otherwise be thrown away. This doesn’t look anything like that. There’s one HD video (by Sara Magenheimer) and a consumer combo display (Ajay Kurian’s rhino warrior toy on puzzle box) that remind me of Haim Steinbach, but the rest are your standard wall-hung paintings with a photograph and a photo-collage thrown it. There’s also a ceramic psychedelic mushroom bowl made with gumballs from Adrianne Rubenstein that resembles an ashtray with phallic prongs standing erect in its concavity. The father of psychoanalysis would have a field day after you told him it was made with nubby testicular spheres that you pop in your mouth. Rubenstein’s messy aesthetic appears as well in an eye-grabbing painting entitled Broccoli Vision that might depict garden foliage from the perspective of someone who has no interest in horizons. The contrast between the loose brushwork here and Sascha Braunig’s precisely patterned oil paintings could be discussed in the context of the anal stage of psychosexual development, but Freud’s Butt is an exhibition that will have to wait for another day.
Back to the matter of identity, there’s a painting by Oreka James with a naked black female figure but her head’s been cut off by the frame and that would have been a no-no back in the day, so something has changed. Alex Chaves, who’s better known as a painter, contributes a photograph with a Raggedy Ann doll beside a shirtless, ambiguously gendered young adult. Another critic used the phrase “queer hermeneutics” in review of a previous exhibition of paintings by the same artist and that didn’t surprise me. The portrait by Hamishi Farah of a couple expecting their first child appears to be a straightforward gesture normalizing representations of people of colour, but this Somali-Australian artist isn’t one to do things in a striaghtforward fashion, so there’s something else going on.
If I had to put my finger on what’s different about the art of these youngsters’ elementary school years is that identity used to be about categories in which you’d find yourself. You’d identify with a group or challenge how that group was identified. This art, on the other hand, is more of an expression of the individual. As with an ID card, your identity can also be singular, and the absence of unifying elements in this gathering leads me to see each artist in isolation – which can be both positive and negative. I’m still on the fence as to where I feel it falls.
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