Sometimes you just need a sexy lizard lady smoking a cigarette with her tiddies exposed or a disembodied donger hanging from a fishing hook.
I don’t know about you, dearest Filthy Dreamers, but after a year plus of a pandemic, I can’t stomach depressing art anymore. You know, the art that seems dead set on reflecting the horrors we all collectively experienced back to us in case we didn’t notice, remember, or have post traumatic flashbacks featuring them. Maybe I’ll be ready to gaze into the abyss again after this summer. Maybe never.
Thankfully, Samantha Rosenwald fulfilled the need for some joy (remember joy?) with more than a little splash of dark humor (my favorite!) in her current exhibition Exquisite Corpse at Arsenal Contemporary Art. This collection of colored pencil on canvas works were a breath of fresh air–ok, not that fresh since we’re still wearing masks in galleries–after some other heavy art viewing. Amusing art is also an essential business, okay?
The first painting I fell in love with was Squash the Beef that features a long-fingered, longer-nailed hand squishing an overripe banana, both of which sport the same quickly browning, bruised pattern. With the cartoonish, claw-like hand, the canvas was reminiscent of Margot Bird’s similarly surreal and glamorous aliens and poodles–kitschy, a bit trashy, and oh-so-camp.
But whereas Bird’s canvases are more loosely rendered, Rosenwald’s paintings are, due to her choice of colored pencil, obsessively precise and detailed. Beyond the show’s title, the exhibition overall makes Rosenwald’s knowledge of art history clear with her updated, bucket hat-adorned take on Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s food frenzies, embedding Fireball whisky, Jose Cuervo tequila, and lipstick-stained cigarette butts amidst the fresh produce. Not to mention her reference to a beheaded John the Baptist with a head dangling over vapes and a very classy Porky Pig purse.
Even more than formal technical skill or remembering bits and pieces of a Janson art history textbook, Rosenwald’s paintings are just fucking funny, filled with a cornucopia of influencer designer products like Prada fanny packs and Off-White labels, vape cartridges, snakes, copious breasts, Glossier lipstick, and Oreos. If the sudden appearance of consumerist objects of affection don’t do it for you, certainly Rosenwald’s Studio Visit will at least garner a chuckle, depicting a heel being rammed into a collector, critic, gallerist, or curator’s distorted face as he slobbers all over its sole.
And laughing in a gallery doesn’t mean Rosenwald’s work doesn’t contain serious social critique. It does, but it wraps up a feminist critique of power, commodification, and consumerism in some deliciously deranged humor. I mean, a dismembered…um…member recalling Lorena Bobbitt’s fateful chop isn’t exactly a subtle gesture. Nor an apolitical one! And certainly the power dynamic depicted in Studio Visit warrants some attention or at least, some soul-searching for any male art worker. Plus, you simply have to read the poem that corresponds to the exhibition, which references a variety of torture instruments such as the iron maiden, the ducking stool, the brazen bull, and the breaking wheel to see Rosenwald isn’t all light-hearted (despite the menacing laughter that fills the margins of the poem).
Likewise, I think we could all use some art reviews that have a dash of levity right now rather than a constant barrage of humorless polemics (haven’t we had enough of those?). So I’m resurrecting Filthy Dreams’ series of GIF reviews, which faded into obscurity during my gallery avoidance days pre-vaccination. So “read” on: