Rosenblum & Seltzer
TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
“Two Heads are Better than One”is the title of an exceedingly demented collaborative exhibition by Theo A. Rosenblum and Chelsea Seltzer that opened on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2012, at The Hole. Like pranksters scrawling mustaches on beauties and blackening out their teeth, Rosenblum and Seltzer have run amok, defacing the tawdriest decorative objects they could find with bizarre and malicious painted and sculpted additions.
Featuring penises poking out of a fast food paper bag and a slobbering mutt stealing pizza from under the nose of a horrified chef, the wall of sketches in the back of the gallery makes it clear that this talented duo is perfectly capable of creating independent imaginative worlds. But why do so much work when so many cloyingly sentimental objects and images already exist, just begging to be vandalized? Another monumental wall is plastered from top to bottom with source material, including iconic images of puppies, noble Native Americans and angels.
“We have always drawn together and sometimes even painted, but we started our collaborative work in earnest in 2010 at Hydra School Project residency,” Rosenblum and Seltzer explain. “After we added some images to four prints we’d bought from a traveling Nigerian who hated Greece, the idea of working in collaboration with 'found' images and objects really began to gel. We found that working together gives us license to do stuff that we wouldn't normally do on our own. Our ideas about art are similar enough to make the collaboration work, but different enough to make it interesting.”
The result is an outpouring of sabotaged kitsch, such as A Horse Is a Horse (2012), a painting of a herd of wild horses running in front of a stormy sky bisected by a rainbow. One steed has been fitted with a clunky quartet of pink and turquoise roller skates, an ambisexual flabby nude straddles the rainbow and an animal skull has insinuated itself into the foreground. Not only that, the traditional frame is festooned with sculptures of leftover junk food: chicken parts, French fries, leaking packets of ketchup and mustard, and a pair of hot dogs that could be reminders of where the carcasses of noble animals sometimes end up.
Rosenblum and Seltzer are clearly preoccupied with food. Welcoming viewers to the gallery, a sculpture of an oversized pink frosted donut with multicolored sprinkles is suspended from the ceiling by a noose, like a giant toxic porch swing. “It’s so ridiculous!” crowed fellow art provocateur Dan Colen. “It’s making me so happy!” Colen’s sometime collaborator Nate Lowman was also impressed. “I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to make this art together. You wonder if they even spoke to each other or if everything was automatic. It’s so surreal.”
Religion is also a target. Mothership (2011) is a large-scale sculpture that features a ceramic portrait of Mother Theresa holding a baby emerging from a flying saucer, poised on top of an upside-down tree that resembles a giant sprig of broccoli. A seductive, prepubescent angel peers coyly from a painting called Crumb Over (2012), its visage defaced by a tiny shirt and tie. A turkey buzzard with a hairbrush in its mouth looks over the angel’s shoulder, hijacking her wings like Zeus did when he transformed into a swan in his lust for Leda.
The chocolate-chip-cookie frame enveloping this angel epitomizes a characteristic feature of Rosenblum and Seltzer’s technique: the surface is repulsive. Perhaps because it’s made out of resin clay, it looks more like vomit than food. An Arm and a Leg (2012), a pseudo-Dutch still life with one flower crushed in a mousetrap and another bloom sporting ears, also has an ugly frame: a pair of limbs with misshapen muscles and very unsavory fingernails.
The painted additions are also rather pathetic, in spite of the duo’s surprisingly delicate hand. A host of possible artistic influences comes to mind, including Robert Crumb, Peter Saul, Philip Guston and Sue Williams -- but none of them have ever succeeded in creating forms so exquisitely weak, completely oblivious to any pictorial “shoulds.”
In spite of its revolting subject matter, the artwork elicited strangely rhapsodic praise from the duo’s friends. “It’s a lovely show, so beautiful and poetic,” enthused roving art dealer Vito Schnabel. “The way the frames and paintings work together is really sweet. It’s easy to see how much fun they had making this work together.” Hole founder Kathy Grayson was also delighted. “The two of them knew exactly what they wanted. They have dreamed up a tightly envisioned world of absurdity and executed it perfectly.”
The display of comestibles even made some viewers want to eat. “That’s the best bacon I’ve ever seen,” said artist Rochelle Feinstein in reference to Quacked (2011), a sculpture featuring a split-open plastic Donald Duck figure standing on a sunny-side-up egg that’s resting on criss-crossed bacon strips. “Just look at the way they painted the burnt edges. It almost makes me want to go non-vegetarian.”
The usual post-opening dinner, however, wasn’t an option for the artists. Rosenblum and Selzer’s adorable six-month-old daughter Octavia, who patiently (sometimes) attended the entire event, was ready to go home to bed. Prices range from $250 for a small drawing to $35,000 for the largest sculpture.
“Two Heads are Better than One,” Feb. 14-Mar. 17, 2012, at The Hole, 312 Bowery, New York, N.Y. 10012.
ELISABETH KLEY is a New York artist and art writer.