I had seen Karen Finley's show at Gray Kapernekas Gallery a couple times before last Monday night when the gallery very kindly opened it's doors to Creative Council for a talk with the artist. I already loved it, but there were a few things I couldn't quite put my finger on. The collection of drawings are from her new book, George and Martha, an imagining of a night of passion between George Bush and Martha Stewart.
There was a style running through some of the drawings that felt familiar, but I wasn't sure why. In her talk Finley mentioned that it was a nod to Warhol's fashion illustrations. This homage to the king of surface observation especially made sense in the context of the the works' commentary.
At one point somebody asked what was going on with the appropriation of Muench's Scream in one of the drawings. Martha remains in bed, and George has transformed into the Scream character. Finley filled in the blank. And what a blank! It turns out that George has awakened to find his body inhabited by Osama Bin Laden, hence the Scream. More specifically it turns out that OBL is hiding in his anus. We should have known.
Comedy aside, it led to Finley's discussion regarding how much sadness she saw in the works. She takes us in with our identification with the absolute loneliness and distance one feels when waking up with that dread filling the body. She pointed to the drawing with the caption "Fuck Mommy between her breasts and give Mommy a pearl necklace". The phrase betrays a pornographic distance, a choice to touch only the surface. This is not about pity for these characters. It's about trying to understand these "insufficient icons" that we have at this point in our cultural history.
How did we get here? This is not my beautiful wife, but this is our wretched president and it is our elected domestic goddess. When I first saw this show it felt cathartic because of the anger in it. After Finley's comments I realized that the real power in this show is hiding underneath the anger in a seemingly bottomless pool of grief. Under this water--as is often the case in myth--is where we'll find the door to understanding how we got here. Open it.
Everytime there's a Whitney Biennial there's a show around that dramatically colors the way I see the exhibition. This is that show. While the Biennial is so very us vs. them, Finley's show is about us vs. us. If we want to truly learn anything about where we are and the way out, we need to start here. The teacher is teachin', y'all.
The show is up through March 18 at Gray Kapernekas Gallery at 526 W. 26th Street, Suite 814.