November 30, 2011 · 0 Comments
The gallery statement for the show Bleach by Alex Da Corte and Paul DeMuro at Jolie Laide begins by referencing the release and aesthetic characteristics of Nirvana’s album of the same name. I only read the description after seeing all of the work at the opening, and I didn’t make the connection until then. As if the show weren’t strong enough to begin with, Nirvana happens to represent my rock music roots and a certain amount of nostalgia for my late teens. After thinking I had a handle on this powerful show, I was forced to double back and revisit my assumptions in this new light. I always say that great art makes one question and consider (DeMuro and Da Corte may disagree to some extent) and Bleach literally made me think twice.
It should be noted that Bleach is Jolie Laide’s closing show, as opposed to Nirvana’s opening blast. The art, like the music, is quite heavy and dark in its tone; it pours the cynicism on thick and doesn’t let up until you exit the gallery. The contrast between the individual work of Da Corte and DeMuro is also quite stark, as the Duchampian, readymade sculptures and gradient, color-field paintings operate like conceptual negatives of one another.
There is also the assertion that Kurt Cobain “didn’t give a flying fuck what the lyrics were about” on Nirvana’s debut album. The content of the show is not mired in deep thoughtfulness or even purposely obscured. It is in many ways devoid of thought and self-consciousness altogether, instead opting for a directly dismal mood and nothing more. Riding on the coattails of 90s era alternative rock, the two artists embrace the zeitgeist of frustration and anger found in various forms from Occupy Wall Street, constant global conflict, and environmental disasters, to tiresome postmodern art and the gloating, self-affirming artists that create it. But whatever, man.
Speaking of this exhibition’s conceptual polarity in nearly the same breath as claiming it defies analysis may seem contradictory, but contradiction itself is yet another facet of the beautifully pointless stuff on display. As I listen to the grungy guitar distortion on Bleach, it works its way under my skin and causes me more than a little anxiety. Yet as much as the music aggravates, it also energizes. Instead of shying away from dark emotions, Nirvana confronts them through harsh sounds and riotous mosh pits.
Why does depressing music sound so sweet in the midst of depression? Why do street protests and rock concerts leave us feeling more empowered than voting or going to the opera? It’s safe to say it is partly because of the energy and the empathy we feel with our peers as well as the acknowledgement that anger is natural and better dealt with than stashed away. “I’m a negative creep, and I’m stoned,” shrieks Kurt on one of the tracks. Well, touché, Mr. Cobain. You touched the nerve of a generation. Twenty-two years later, DeMuro and Da Corte drag these sentiments out of their slumber, catch them up on what they missed, and throw them (ready or not) into a 21st century gallery. Grunge might be dead, but its relevance is not. Think an art gallery isn’t the best venue for these ideas? Well me too, but oh well.
This would probably be a good time to at least mention what the art looks like. Paul DeMuro sculpts heavily textured paintings out of thick wads of oil paint, much of which consists of desaturated grays, whites, and blacks which fade into one another. The colors are literally photographic negatives of his former paintings, and pop with segments of brighter pastels and caustic greens, violets, and yellows. Most of them are very centrally focused with ethereal, geometric patterns converging near the middle of the canvases. One exception is “Untitled,” whose multiple shades of black coat nearly all of the canvas, aside from a few splashes of green and gray. It presents itself as one big ball of angst, stretched out along the wall for all to see. It is fairly unapproachable and dangles precariously in the public eye. Much like Cobain’s popular image, it resists explanation and remains mostly an enigma.
Alex Da Corte mostly pieces together readymade sculptures and installations utilizing all manner of objects: PVC pipes, ceramic cats, metallic marijuana leaves, plastic skulls, hair conditioner, and clown makeup, to name a few. In “Silver Velouria Gaze” he even appropriates the quintessential bastardization of rock music in the form of chrome-plated Guitar Hero guitars. It can be said with some certainty that Kurt Cobain would probably be disgusted by Rock Band and Guitar Hero as mindless, consumerist garbage. Even with their shiny new exteriors on the gallery floor, it’s not hard to see them for what they are. They are not real instruments and are only functional as part of a video game system that stands for everything rock music is not. Da Corte gives them a makeover and plops them on the ground. Here they are more useful as artifacts of the mass distraction and boredom that ultimately breed the frustration our generation hopes to overcome in the first place.
In the back corner of Jolie Laide sits a big, two-piece print of a screaming woman smeared with petroleum jelly, entitled “Double Courtney (Good Woman x Negative Creep).” Clearly this represents Cobain’s tumultuous relationship with performer Courtney Love. It also happens to express very well the message of this show in the form of an overwhelmingly silent shout and a dingy, messy exterior. The screaming of a musician often says much more than words can, and on mute it apparently says even more. It shows instead of tells the existential pain many of us harbor deep down. At this point I can’t help but feel that I’ve already said far too much about a show that renders words all but useless. Oh, well. Whatever. Nevermind.