"This Show Is Ribbed for Her Pleasure," July 14-Aug. 20, 2005, at Cynthia Broan Gallery, 546 West 29th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
Cynthia Broan met Andrew Clarkin and Simon Pittuck, the curators of the Keith Talent gallery (named after the heavy drinking darts player in the Martin Amis novel London Fields) at the Zoo art fair in London last year. Now, she’s invited 20 of the Talent stable of clever Brits across the pond for her summer group show. For those interested in new British art, the likeability and lightness of the work here paints a picture of a scene where no-strings-attached pleasure is the dish of the day.
The exhibition is titled "This Show Is Ribbed for Her Pleasure," taking its name from a drawing by Clunie Reid in which ink letters smudged on official-looking lined paper read, "This drawing is ribbed for her pleasure." Confusingly, we don’t actually see this seed work in the gallery, a railway-apartment-style space with neat hanging partitions dividing three rooms. As you enter the gallery, you do, however, see another iteration of Reid’s smutty style: a drawing that reads, "This drawing doesn’t get any harder."
One of the standouts of the show is Dick Jewell’s video Dermot and Natasha, which quietly dominates the second, main room. The cheesy lounge track "Body Talk" by Imagination wafts out gently from an iMac sitting in the corner, which plays a slowed-down and spliced-up composite of two straight-laced BBC morning newscasters. Jewell has isolated the moments before and after the two speak in which they glance at one another, just miss each other’s gaze and fidget. It reminded me of a video piece by another artist at P.S.1 last year, where the slow-mo footage of newscasters made them look like porn stars, luxuriously opening their mouths and blissfully closing their eyes.
Here, though, the motif is more interesting, and funnier, because Dermot and Natasha remain resolutely un-sexy –- they are awkward and polite, very British in their meek flirtation. A hand moves from one knee to the other, with the epic gravitas that slow-motion seems to grant even the most banal actions -- a head cocks to the left then the right. . . a sideways glance again misses its target. . . then Dermot hangs his head guiltily and Natasha looks like the Simpsons’ Edna Crabapple, exasperated by her gutless suitor.
The music to Dermot and Natasha serves as a soothing soundtrack for the show, giving warmth to what otherwise might be an awkwardly quiet space (not many people venture up to 29th street in the summer, apparently). Nearby, Howard Dyke’s Clit, a small neon loop in the shape of just that, seems to pulse in time to the music. And a second work by Clunie Reid, adjacent to Dermot and Natasha, is also pretty raunchy: two enlarged Xerox prints, one of a frolicking upside-down cat, and one of a woman giving head to a rather limp member that could, indeed, get "harder." The languishing cat by itself might have been enough to suggest the sex depicted so openly in the second, rather brutal image.
Like Reid, the curators of this show are good at playful formal doubling and gnomic juxtaposition. One of the first things you see upon entering the gallery is Gordon Dalton’s black step-ladder holding a plank of wood with a balloon on one end and a bucket on the other, titled Born under a Bad Sign, juxtaposed with Matt Wooding’s garish painting of a ladder and children’s slide nearby. In the second gallery, Melanie Stidolph’s gorgeous photo of a toddler, haloed in sunlight, abandoning a swing and heading straight for us, echoes yet another Reid photocopy diptych from the third room, this one featuring a monkey swinging on a rope and then a child on a swing. Beyond pleasing resonances though, there isn’t much development of meaning; it is, as the curators themselves say, simply a "visual salad bar."
Between the second and third rooms, a mini-cinema has been set up to show Max Mosscrop’s Holm, a video loop of a lonesome old house on a blasted northern heath, dusted in snow. Nothing moves in the frame, but the light changes slowly, almost imperceptibly –- somehow things become even more grey and miserable. The living portrait style of video functions nicely for a human face, with its compulsive little twitches and adjustments -– Natasha and Dermot is a case in point –- but for architecture and landscape, it’s not quite so interesting. The video is nicely meditative, but so little was happening that my wandering mind, maybe corrupted by the excitement of the previous space and trying to discern some kind of curatorial connection, immediately read the house’s jutting chimney as a dubious sexual reference.
The final gallery confirms the show’s abrupt shift from the physical to the structural, and begs the question as to what the works here have to do with the sexy theme of the show –- though they are a pleasure in themselves. We get clattering lines in Vanessa Jackson’s geometric yet gestural grid of drawings, in the ecstatic riot that is David Smith’s angular painting Reverence, and in a sculpture by Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson that is composed of wooden sticks strewn across the floor in the center of the room, each of which features a strange carving on the end that combines the shape of a toy house with that of a skull.
If this work isn’t at all kinky, at least it features depravity: little clay birds surround Doyle and Mallinson’s fallen houses on the ground, and they are either injecting themselves with syringes or swigging from mini-liquor bottles. Then, opposite, there’s Oran O’Reilly’s slick computer rendering of a McDonald’s burger box with a bomb attached to it. This will make good magazine fodder -- though here it seems to change the subject of the show yet again.
Finally, there’s a second huge, graceful, yet vaguely threatening print by Melanie Stidolph, perhaps the best piece on display. This one is of a mare in a field looking down on its sleeping foal, with an expression that could be motherly love or pure menace, as if it just kicked its infant unconscious for misbehaving.
It’s a plucky, mischievous show, unburdened by any weighty agenda –- a throwaway prophylactic pleasure indeed. A solo show by almost any of these promising Brits -- smart but not smarmy like the YBAs that preceded them -- will provide the steady relationship that you will be left pining for.
JAMES WESTCOTT lives in New York and writes on art and politics.