Lunchtime dystopia: CON-Figuration at Postmasters

Christian Rex van Minnen, Selfie In Casmate Beneath the Bridge to Better Days I, 2017, oil on linen, 72 x 52 inches.

Contributed by Sharon Butler / Not far from the courthouse, wandering jurors like myself might happen upon Postmasters Gallery on Franklin Street during the mandated 1-2 pm lunchbreak. Currently on view is a densely hung exhibition of figurative work called “CON-Figuration,” a big, bawdy show of digital collage, painting, woven tapestries of porn web pages, and 3D renderings. Paintings fuse the weirdness and kitsch of the Chicago Imagists with the painting chops of the old masters in an exhibition that seems particularly rewarding for viewers who prefer to get lost in images rather than read related research documents and wordy wall labels.

Canyon Castator, Tipping Point (detail), 2016, oil on canvas, 68 x 96 inches

Appropriately enough, the press release is endearingly brief:

We put the Con into configuration. Criminally intense, disturbingly dense, amplified, distorted, unreal, uncomfortable, weird, and sexy. Art for this deformed time.

The statement ends with a quote from Bertolt Brecht:

 “In dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing about the dark times.”

My-oh-my, yes, these are dark times.

Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, Krishna – Odharma, 2009, digital print on canvas, 40 x 72 inches.

Postmasters is divided in two adjoining galleries. The first hosts Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s chaotic digital collages. Based on the legends and challenges of the well-loved Obama Administration, the images beg attention and, well, devotion. The vividly colored pieces, completely sourced from internet imagery, conjure traditional Mysore paintings from South India. Is that Obama as the many-armed  Goddess Durga, with a gold bejeweled crown, and an adoring audience of small foreign leaders at his feet? Yes, yes it is.

In the next room, Canyon Castator’s colorful, cartoonish figures channel Nicole Eisenman’s buffoonish figuration. And like Leon Golub, Castator is interested in men behaving badly;  the figures are awash in pills, drinks, smokes, sex, and more.

Readers who prefer Rembrandty glazing/chiascuro techniques will admire Christian Rex Van Minnen’s creepy tattooed nudes. Oblivious to their vulnerability, these creatures sport lumps, odd bulges, and delicately drawn tats. Their mouths and eyes seem to be disappearing under flaps of skin. Is this the mutant species we are on our way to becoming, living in dark cave-like spaces and communicating via selfies?

Agathe Snow, Insouciant, Dad is always stressing about his job
Don’t Stress over the Turkey Daddy…, 2017, mixed materials, dimensions variable.

Sitting in the center of the gallery, Agathe Snow’s blue, crudely sewn and lightly stuffed non-gendered figurative sculptures combine a laundry list of materials and objects: metallic latex sheeting, memory foam, acrylic fiber stuffing, sand, baking soda, absorbent polymer and anti-microbial agent base gel, large iron hook, 3-legged chair, orange curved rusted part of agricultural machine, horseshoe, rusted iron rectangular hook, and cable. The blue figures themselves seem overwhelmed by the found objects that surround and ensnare them, as if resistance were futile.

Erin Riley
Erin Riley, 1 24, 2 46 29 PM, 2017, wool, cotton, 100 x 96 inches.

Erin Riley has a thing for internet porn, which she screen-grabs and weaves into tapestries by hand. In case the viewer might think the tapestries are based on pictures that Riley has taken of people having sex, she includes the menus, play buttons, and dialogue boxes. She is reminding us, and telling future generations, that at this point in the 21st century, people liked having sex with the computer, perhaps even more than with each other.

Shamus Clisset, Gold Future (Cripple), 2015, 3D render, 72 x 48 inches.

Shamus Clisset’s work, evoking sci-fi fantasy films such as Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, features shiny-metallic bionic man-like creatures made from scraps of digital texture and other artifacts. Clisset, who grew up in macho Colorado, builds the imposing figures and inhospitable environments using 3D modeling software. He has said he likes gun, beer, and violence. Or, er, I mean, he has said he likes the aesthetics of guns, beer, and violence.

“CON-Figuration” is a powerful show. Despite all the raucous, lively color, it’s deeply depressing–as if we were glimpsing our collective destiny. In the meantime, though, lunch break is over. Everyone back to the courthouse. Justice will still be served, verdicts must be rendered.

CON-Figuration,” with Canyon Castator, Christian Rex Van Minnen, Agathe Snow, Erin Riley, Shamus Clisset. Postmasters, Tribecca, New York, NY. Through April 22, 2017.

Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung:  In G.O.D. We Trust,” Postmasters, Tribecca, New York, NY. Through April 22, 2017.

Related posts:
New subjectivity: Figurative painting at Pratt Manhattan Gallery
Nicole Eisenman and the triumph of painting

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