Like an eccentric Brooklyn character in a Paul Auster novel, Paul D’Agostino – writer, curator, Italian literature scholar, and resolute insomniac – thinks in the cadences of Dante. In his exhibition “Twilit Ensembles” at Pocket Utopia, he combines jangled fictional cartoon narratives inspired by paint splatters on the studio floor with spare, elegant wall-mounted sculptures enthroning his characters (for example, The Legendary Fish Monster) and small oil paintings that encapsulate the lugubrious, insouciant mood conjured by D’Agostino’s inventive new work.
Paul D’Agostino, Floor Translations IV, Herr Doktor Zweinzahne and the Foundation, 2012, installation view. Series of thirteen sequenced drawings, numbered on verso, charcoal and ink on buff-colored wove paper, clipped to string.
In the longest of the cartoon sequences, Herr Doktor Zweinzahne and the Foundation – set forth in dusty black charcoal on buff paper, as one might find behind a broken glass frame in a cobwebbed attic – an aging archeologist seeking ever more exotic subjects to justify academic grants seems to turn into one such subject himself, becoming hopelessly addled and compromising both his funding and his reputation. The archness of D’Agostino’s purposefully stilted verbalization and the simple eeriness of his figures are amusing and obtuse, leaving the viewer to wonder if she is being played, just as an ambitious scientist who had hit a dead end might try to con his customary benefactors. The stories culminate in the creation of a three-dimensional version of the paint spatter, mounted on a wire set in a wooden block–as if the cartoon character, now fully realized in the artist’s mind, has jumped off the wooden floor.
The artist’s cheerfully decadent, baroque sensibilities brush up against the swaggering irreverence of 1970s underground comics and Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism. The paintings, leveraging the solemnity of vertical line and romantic landscape, hover deftly between the referential and the abstract – much as the narratives are poised, quite intentionally, between scholarly fatuity and sardonic wisecrack.
These days reality seems to be king, from unscripted TV shows and internet exhibitionism to installations featuring consumer products and relational aesthetics. With soul, wit, and virtuosity, Paul D’Agostino resurrects what seems to have gone missing in contemporary art practice: a vivid imagination.
“Paul D’Agostino: Twilit Ensembles,” Pocket Utopia, Lower East Side, New York, NY. Through April 21, 2013.
Image at top: Paul D’Agostino, Floor Translations III, The Rarely Glimpsed Junkfish, charcoal on paper, 2012.
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