Roberta Smith’s Thursday review in the New York Times of two group shows of skeletons and skulls at Cheim & Read and Dinter Fine Art ends with the gloomy philosophical observation that life is steeped in death, that being born, living and expiring are all one constant of dying. Samuel Johnson was so fearful in being immersed in such a reality that he had his friend Hester Thrale tie him up in chains, in secret, and whip him to disperse such intimations of morbidity.
I confess to resisting attending the various skull shows because, having in late middle age experienced my share of deaths and nearly expiring myself four years ago, I hardly need to turn "memento mori" into an esthetic obsession. If Robert Rauschenberg can continue, with undiminished life-affirming brio, to create art with one good arm from a wheelchair, whatever the confusion it creates in his "market," then surely other arties can seek out art about life.
Happily there is one such masterpiece, currently up for auction in London, which confers joy and good living upon all who behold it: Lupe and Lola II by that redoubtable poet of whimsy, the anti-Currin, Lisa Yuskavage. Looking past, if you can, the life-giving breasts, painted pendulous and pert, I give you doe-like faces which recall the first great American comic artist, Winsor McKay. (If you have never seen his "Ice Palace" cartoons, please do find them). Only Yuskavage can confer innocence with unbridled lust and make it more innocent.
Then there is the simple room, the wallpaper, yellow ochre thrust with green and a repeating off-white design, so simple, so modest, so pure, kind of like the Brooklyn apartment of Ralph and Alice Kramden. So much is implied in the touch of Lola on Lupe, frozen in eternity. It is not a skull, it is not the fearful Reaper, it is the promise of life, roiling, sensuous, orgasmic, laughing life. I don’t know if you know this, but billions of things had to die over millions and millions of years to give you life, dear reader. Isn’t that exhilarating? Lupe and Lola and Lisa Yuskavage think so, and in a moment, in your imagination, they will show you.
"I Am as You Will Be: The Skeleton in Art," Sept. 20-Nov. 3, 2007, at Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
"Death & Love in Modern Times," Sept. 13-Oct. 27, 2007, at Dinter Fine Art, 547 West 27th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).