Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Deborah Kass: Feel good paintings for feel bad times and Dana Frankfort: DF

Paul Kasmin Gallery
293 10th Avenue
New York City
September 7 to October 13, 2007

Bellwether Gallery
134 10th Avenue
September 8 to October 6

eborah Kass Daddy 2007, enamel and acrylic on canvas, 78 x 78 inches, courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery
Deborah Kass, Daddy 2007, enamel and acrylic on canvas, 78 x 78 inches, courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery
Dana Frankfort Crack 2007, oil on panel, 36 x 48 inches, courtesy Bellwether
Dana Frankfort, Crack 2007, oil on panel, 36 x 48 inches, courtesy Bellwether

The beginning of the season has brought us two remarkable shows at either end of the tenth Avenue gallery corridor. The shows beg for comparison. Both women work in what is, by now, a genre, text painting, or at least make paintings that include words and phrases in them. Both are working at the intersection of language, symbol and abstraction. They each have impressive credentials, make no bones about or make issue of their Jewishness; Kass-“It’s Hard Being a Jew”, Frankfort-“Star of David (orange)”. It’s a sort of beyond post-feminist double whammy.

Kass reminds me of old New York, the New York of the Thalia Theater and the New Yorker Bookshop. Highly intelligent, cynical, wise cracking, and fast fast fast. Her paintings which combine signage of iconic modernism and phrases of city argot or lyrics derived from Broadway musicals are hilarious and also like a punch in the stomach or on the arm, really hard. “Oh Come On” and “Enough Already “ are good examples of the former and “What I did For Love” and “Sign Out, Louise” of the latter. In “Painting With Balls” Kass spells out Cojones repeatedly painted in the grisaille style and font of an iconic Jasper Johns work that actually includes two balls. In “Daddy I Would Love to Dance” Kass spells out that phrase in bold block letters done black or white drip style (a la Jackson Pollock) against a camouflage (a la Warhol) background.

The famous Kenneth Noland target is emblazoned with the phrase “Nobody Puts Baby In the Corner”. References to other famous artists, linguistic and stylistic, obvious and subtle, are all over the place. Kass is not about to earnestly canonize any patriarchal figure. This is a serious game and Kass’ sure graphic hand and knack for over the top color consort to make the work something more than jokes. The occasional strange choice of lyric and graphic combination strikes an odd note and feels like pop psychology. “Let The Sunshine In” is in this category. For the most part the work has teeth and will most likely have ”legs” as well.

Dana Frankfort’s show at the super-cool Bellwether Gallery is more finite about the nature of words and more painterly in touch. Simple words or phrases are left to do their own work of resonation and cross-reference. Don’t be deceived by the seeming simplicity, these paintings are every bit as subversive.   “Crack” and “Stuff”, and “Possibly Permanent” are examples of the sort of word-phrases used as a springboard for Frankfort’s paintings. She is more in doubt of the efficacy of the word and the word is sometimes painted over itself several times making it almost unreadable, bringing to mind the ineffability of much of what we intend to communicate and the multiplicity of meaning without context. Frankfort also has a sure graphic touch but it’s one we don’t recognize yet, it’s more underground and slightly street. Her color is often near impossible, even lurid, yet sly and funny in it’s own knowing way. In “Lines” and “Lines (transformer)” the seraphed font moves top to bottom, seraphs top and bottom making an onomatopoeic representation of the word. Sometimes as in “Word” the scale of the font jumps around in size and space. It included a Star of David indicating that symbol can take the place of the word. The soundtrack for this work is far from Broadway. It is more abstract, dissonant and propulsive…. Several generations away from Kass’ “Do You Wanna Funk With Me”.

The implications and issues raised in both of these shows are far ranging and quickly become quite deep. They are both a lot of fun and offer several fertile fields for painting to grow in. Don’t miss them before the shows come too thick and fast to detect an issue or an implication.