Drunk vs. Stoned, Apr. 22-May 31, 2004, at Gavin Browns Enterprise at Passerby, 436 West 15th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
"Drunk vs. Stoned" is one of the most diverting group shows of the year. It's also one of the daffiest. Not all the work is top-notch, although most of it is more than good. Yet this show opens a window onto a way of looking at art that feels almost as weighty as it is gleeful. It divides art into two all-purpose categories: drunk and stoned. The fact that nearly all the work here could go into either or neither category only makes the exercise merrier.
According to the press release, "Drunk and stoned can be seen as metaphors for two different approaches to making art." So this isn't about artists who actually are drunk or stoned while working. It's about the qualities of an artwork. The theme is so rich that the curatorial team of Elysia Borowy (of the General Store in Milwaukee), Gavin Brown, Corinna Durland and Emily Speers Mears (the name itself sounds sloshed) could easily turn the show into a book. It could be further divided into subcategories like "Tipsy vs. Floating" or subsections like psychedelics, amphetamines, opiates and beer.
Going by my own questionable standards, stoned is a more mental state. It's ultra-self-aware and oversensitive, if belly-button-oriented. The stoned sensibility is easily fixated, fascinated or surprised. Stoned meanders, fills in space with small or repeating marks and gestures, or gets super-focused. It loves spirals, circles and patterns, bright colors and endlessly embellished areas. It's located more in the fingers than the arm; the eyes, not the gut. While it's physically tingly, it's also very out-of-body. Stoned is prone to being anal-retentive. Contemporary stoned art includes Matthew Barney, Takashi Murakami, Ugo Rondinone, Sarah Sze, Lane Twitchell, Leo Villareal and Julie Mehretu.
The drunk sensibility is more outward, uninhibited, turbulent, impulsive, and clownish. It's romantic, occasionally morose, likes to share feelings, and isn't afraid of sloppy emotions. Gary Hume, Robert Melee, Martin Kippenberger, Olaf Breuning, Paul McCarthy, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst fit this mold. Sue De Beer, Jon Kessler, John Bock and Pipilotti Rist are hybrids who make drunk art about stoned things. I spent my early 20s in the show's latter category; my late 20s in the former. If pressed, I'd admit that my writing is more demonstrative drunk than well-tuned stoned. Globally speaking, Europe is more drunken than the United States, which had been drunk in the early 1980s, sobered up in the '90s, but may be flirting with getting stoned again. Asia and South America seem stoned to me. Africa, as Okwui Enwezor said, is "psychotic." Exhibition openings are drunk: People get loose and try to connect. If openings were stoned, everyone would be making intellectual fine points while forgetting what they were saying; they would be mellow but spaced-out or paranoid. Stoned is giddy; drunk, boisterous. The drunken sensibility says, "Wow, man"; the stoned, "Oh, wow!"
As seen at Gavin Brown's Enterprise at Passerby, a gallery with its own bar, "Drunk vs. Stoned" is divided roughly into two parts, with an excellent back room where you can buy drunk or stoned art for a song. The stoned works in the main space are installed on gray walls. The drunk works, on the opposite white walls, are in the minority, which makes sense in our inward, anxious time. A quintessential drunk work is Two Sunbathers, a Nan Goldin-esque color photograph by Chris Smith, director of American Movie, one of the better films of the 1990s. In the photo, two fleshy white guys lay facedown in the sand, their legs splayed in weird Egyptian hieroglyphic ways. It is the epitome of drunkenness, because the pair look like they've fallen down, broken their legs, or are asleep, and are now extremely sunburned. Beyond tipsy, they're hammered. It reminded me of an old roommate who'd get bombed, fall down, injure himself, go to the emergency room, and ring my doorbell at 4 a.m. saying he lost his keys or needed money.
Other standouts in the drunk section include Edgar Bryan's bleary but delicate painting, Rirkrit Tiravanija's detritus-in-a-box from one of his feasts, Sarah Lucas's crinkled bronze Beer Can Penis, Donald Morgan and Scott Reeder's geometric Drunk Robot and a nicely disheveled painting by Charline von Heyl. You can almost imagine her sitting in front of it, a bottle of whiskey by her side, contemplating her next move.
Two fundamentally stoned works are Jim Lambie's Psychedelic Soul Stick No. 45, a rod that looks as if it's been wrapped with miles of colored thread, and Billy Name's photograph of a light show or a concert. The Name photo is pure stoner because it depicts a real "Wow! Did you see that?" moment of wonderment. The Lambie is stoned because of its ultra itsy-bitsy focus. Other good stoned pieces include Matthew Greene's obsessive ink drawing (better than the canvases he showed in last winter's "Scream," because it's more personal), and paintings by Tyson Reeder, Sara Clendening and Jason Fox. It's fitting that Rachel Harrison's sculpture is installed as half drunk and half stoned.
Like all art, the best drunk and stoned work transcends categories. This show suggests that the spirits of abandon and concentration are creeping back into art. With any luck, these essences will deepen and take on more density and intensity.
JERRY SALTZ is art critic for the Village Voice, where this article first appeared. He can be contacted at Jsaltz@VillageVoice.com.