Stereotypes, cultural cliches take a hit in Contemporary exhibition
By David Bonetti
POST-DISPATCH VISUAL ARTS CRITIC
Sunday, Sep. 24 2006
The Contemporary is showing three very different artists: a University City
homeboy, who has appropriated the role of iconic cowboy in his art and music; a
cosmopolitan German-Brazilian, now living in Brooklyn, who addresses the
age-old issue of woman and nature; and an African-American film and video maker
who creates documentaries and MTV-style music videos.
Yet all are engaged in challenging stereotypes or subverting cultural clichés.
Their work takes nothing for granted.
Larry Krone essentially asks why a gay Jewish boy can’t be a country singer who
hand-sews his dazzling costumes, if that expresses his feelings.
Janaina Tschäpe equates woman with nature in her work, but she presents woman
as a psychedelic phantasm, existing somewhere between comedy and horror.
Michael Paul Britto turns one of the saints of African-American lore, Harriet
Tubman, into a blaxploitation heroine, spewing obscenities and packing heat as
she leads her people to freedom.
The three artists are interested in upending received ideas, but they express
no anger. Their work ranges in tone from the sweetness of Krone’s lovingly
handmade objects to the ribald, politically incorrect humor of Britto’s videos.
Collectively, the work suggests that a historic moment has passed. Artists
engaged with identity issues can relax and have fun. The ’90s are over. Cyndi
Lauper won the culture wars.
Krone: Fuzzy edges
Krone’s work comes out of the performance art tradition. He presents himself as
someone else and makes objects that that other person would create.
What makes his work so moving and affective, however, is that the fictional
persona is virtually identical to Krone. Only the fuzzy edges distinguish the
creation from the real.
His created persona is a lonesome urban cowboy who, rather than riding the
range to rid himself of the blues, moseys over to a sleazy East Village bar to
drown his sorrows in Jack Daniel’s. This rhinestone cowboy is a romantic —
heartbroken and a little pathetic, if ever hopeful. He longs for love so
strongly that he will never find it — or if he does, he will do something
stupid, ensuring he will lose it.
“I’m Sorry” is embroidered on a bright red, heart-shape pillow. “She Left Me
Without Mercy” is on a cowhide stretched on the wall. “And I Will Always Love
You” is written on the skies of dozens of vintage postcards.
The lyrics to “Lost in Margaritaville” have been written out in cursive script
with his body hair, each word in its own small frame.
If the lyrics have been borrowed from country songs — “And I Will Always Love
You” is from Dolly Parton, one of Krone’s favorites — so what? The bathetic
emotionalism of so much country music is a perfect correlative for Krone’s
If you need a category for his work, consider him alongside the artists of the
early ’90s “abject” or “pathetic” art movement. Mike Kelley, Cary S.
Leibowitz/Candyass, Jack Pierson and Sean Landers were among the artists,
mostly male, who wore their lovelorn hearts on their sleeves then. Some think
it was the last distinctive art movement to emerge in the United States.
An important part of Krone’s work is performance. On Oct. 5, his group, “Larry
Krone and Family,” will perform “Something Beautiful,” a new program, at the
Contemporary. It should be a hot ticket — and it’s free!