I had an inkling that the Judith Supine solo show (“Dirt Mansion“) at Bushwick’s English Kills was going to be a spectacle but I guess I wasn’t ready for the anal thermometer sculpture awaiting me when I walked in. The funny thing is that it grew on me and obviously everyone else since people were eventually taking pictures in front of the anal art (pictured below) as they grinned and flirted with the absurdity…par for the course in the 21st C. art world I guess.
This is the first large scale show by Supine I’ve encountered. Best know for his Simpsons-hued people pasted on buildings across the city, Supine has developed a distinctive brand of cut-and-paste lips, eyes, jagged hair and ears that jostle each for more face time while bodies twist and turn in impossible configurations.
There is a constant uneasiness in Supine’s elaborate art. In this solo exhibit, there are roughly seven key elements (I’ll point out a few below) that are the show stoppers and demonstrate his skill at creating visually enthralling images. Unfortunately the intermediary spaces (everything else between those delightful seven images that anchor the show) doesn’t seem to do much except set a frivolous mood and fill in the gaps. The environment is part nightclub, part opium den.
The most original aspect of Supine’s installation is the way in which he divides the warehouse space with wooden shapes (such as the figure with anal thermometer) that are playful and carefully planned. The largest freestanding piece in the main gallery depicts a little girl holding up a huge man wearing a cloak of eyeballs, or is he swimming in them? On the reverse there is a more ominous arrangement as he takes advantage of the black light installed in the back gallery and plasters up a blast of floating floral forms.
The whole show seems to spring from dark childhood emotions..flowers splintering into blackness, innocent seeming figures do mischievous things. Surrealist apparitions appear in the tornado of images, but they are all stylized to fit into the general Victorian scrapbook aesthetic.
Supine selectively chooses art historical references for his work. I was able to recognize a few, namely Picasso’s Boy with Dove & Boy with a Pipe (Supine’s remix) and Joseph Cornell’s chilling aesthetic of strange juxtapositions, like this one (Supine’s take), which is omnipresent.
Some of the sculptural forms grow out of lovely black doll houses and on closer inspection they reveal strange domestic scenes inside.
On the back wall, behind the little girl with the unfortunate duty of lifting up the bulbous man, is a huge stunning collage of two figures in a whirlwind of fuschia flowers. Two green hands (green being a signature skin tone for Supine) hang above, one hand uses scissors to prune the fingers of the other hand. The disembodied appendages fall neatly into a pile on the floor. It is a riveting image that makes everything else in the back area forgettable and bland in comparison.
What this show demonstrates to me is that Supine’s work holds up rather well outside (or is it inside) of the street art scene. He can distill the energy from his street work into a gallery without forfeiting the edgy and curious results that make street art so appealing. Unlike other street artists who make portable (usually on canvas or paper) works better suited to commercial galleries, Supine hasn’t cleaned up his billowing imagination to fit neatly into the gallery scene. He’s manufactured a thrilling visual space where you get a feeling that anything can–and does–happen.
Check out my complete Flickr set from the Supine show here.
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