2.8.17 — Carnival in Nicaragua

Farley Aguilar works from found photographs. His gallery even speaks of them as antiquated. By the time he is through, though, they may feel ripped right out of the headlines, a graphic novel, or a textbook history of modern art.

Farley Aguilar's Boys in Line (Lyles & King, 2016)But which? The sheer elusiveness of his images contributes to their punch, at Lyles & King through February 12. So, too, do their ravaged surfaces and eclecticism.

How could I not pin down the seated mother sewing a flag, child by her side? It looks so comforting, like her old-fashioned sofa and print dress. It could be an emblem of family and patriotism, but from what war? The theme appears in posters back in World War I, and Americans have been fighting over the flag ever since. They fought over the war in Vietnam, back when the police were “pigs,” and the word pig appears above the painting on the gallery’s Web site, with double exclamation points—scrawled on the wall in a jagged oval like the ones used in comic strips for pow, zap, and bam. In the climate of wars now, left over from George W. Bush, defenders wield images like this as a sucker punch.

Aguilar’s favorite subject packs another kind of punch—kids or adults, mostly male, lined up against a wall. They could be showing off or hanging out. Aguilar could be speaking to racism and reconciliation in that mother’s interior as well. A painting above the sofa shrouds a couple’s heads in black hoods, like the Ku Klux Klan in reverse. A painting beside it marks another couple with X‘s and O‘s. They bring love and kisses, but also tokens of a game with no winners.

The lineups could come from anywhere, from a carnival to a criminal investigation. So, too, could Aguilar’s technique. He slathers on graphite, oil, and oil stick before scratching into them. Lines and layers compete for attention, as marks of painterly comforts and raw violence. They serve his actors for showing off or as masks. They also add fragments of text—although, like everything else here, difficult to read.

The carnival has deep roots in art history. It comes close to quoting James Ensor, although the agonies and the comedy have ancestors in Edvard Munch, German Expressionism, and Otto Dix as well. It verges, too, on George Baselitz and Neo-Expressionism, but less portentous and right-side up. The show’s title, “Bad Color Book,” may evoke a coloring book as well. Then again, it could refer merely to the bright colors and postmodern boasts of “bad art.” Either way, it is broken English, another token of border crossings.

How did an artist from Nicaragua end up in northern European art? Maybe through events at home, and the tastes of street culture and violence could refer to civil war there. Maybe, too, through the United States, and he has settled in Florida. My first impulse is still to see American themes and American cities. Aguilar moves across cultures without hiding his estrangement. He knows that too many of the divisions lie within.

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10.14.16 — No/Body Home

Everyone has those embarrassing moments when the body takes on a life of its own. For a man, they may come in the pain of aging joints or the inexplicable rising between his legs in the middle of the night. For Aneta Grzeszykowska, the uprising verges on mental as well as physical abuse.

Her four limbs, separated from each other, take her face out of hiding, assault it from all sides, lead it on, and then punish it again. Their torments continue in photographs, where again the body parts refuse to add up. This is not all in her head. Aneta Grzeszykowska's Negative Book #39 (Lyles & King, 2012/2013)

Or is it? Grzeszykowska created that video, head and hands together, to reclaim her mind and body as her own, from what a French theorist might call “the abject.” In bringing her head and her feelings out in the open, it also serves as a revelation—and the ritual continues in a second video, where sparks fly from her mouth. She becomes her own creation in the photos in another way as well. What looks like her amounts to a paper doll in progress, but molded in parchment and pigskin from her flesh. It is also, often as not, a mask.

It is, she asserts, the body in “No/Body,” a two-gallery exhibition at 11R and Lyles & King through October 16. The other gallery contains the defiant no. There she blackens her entire body on video, except for her lips, tits, and crotch. And then she recovers it again in photographic negatives that turn her ghostly presence into white. Nude black and white sculptures, nearly life size, further challenge which version came first. One looks more self-contained, the other more vulnerable, but both could have stepped right out of the negatives and fallen to the floor.

For a woman, who commands her body is a feminist question. And the act of reclamation targets the viewer, not least when male. Grzeszykowska links her work to Cindy Sherman, Ana Mendieta, and a fellow Polish artist, Alina Szapocznikow—and she could well have mentioned Laurie Simmons playing with dolls. She inserts her torso in photographs by another, too, much as Sherman places herself in film noir. She has roots in Surrealism as well, as in the choreography of naked and prosthetic limbs for Hans Bellmer or Pierre Molinier. There, too, heads get lost.

Surrealism or domestic habits may account for still another alter ego, a black cat. One contented feline overlooks her naked body stretched out on a sofa, in one of the borrowed photos. Another sculpture, this time in leather, makes her into a cat woman, with pointy ears to show for it. And Grzeszykowska is at her most domestic at her most surreal, in the negatives. They show her with family and at leisure, at home and at the beach. Even there, she is applying makeup.

They have their own threats to her body as well. Knee deep in a turbulent black ocean, beneath a black sky, she looks anything but secure. At home, she shares space with what might be children or dolls stiff on the ground. She is still searching in the mirror for her reflection and herself. Yet she shows no sign of terror. No/body is at home.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.