Max Maslansky: Safe Place
Five Car Garage, Santa Monica
April 30 - June 17, 2017
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, MAY, 2017
There’s a bit of Leger in Max Maslanky’s visual style, with rounded anatomical contours, reductive features, smooth retro-futuristic geometries, and an artificially fleshy, hi-octane palette. There’s also a bit of what illusionists call legerdemain, a lightness of touch associated with conjuring trickery by artfulness of one’s hands; it’s how he transforms kitschy porno into melodic abstract motifs, as if by magic. Orgiastic riots of hands, arms, buttocks, breasts, open mouths, garter belts and sex parts resolve into clean, schematic, patterns and arrangements of color-blocked passages and thick lines, like stained glass. You’re looking at porn, but you’re seeing early Cubist experiments with form and flatness. It happens right in front of your eyes, but the exact moment of transmutation remains elusive; try as you might you can’t figure out how he does it.
This is not to say that his choice of source material is without meaning. There is a quasi-moral dimension to the softcore dynamic, and allegorical framework for the depiction of human desire in art that reaches as far back in Western art history as it goes -- from homoerotic Greco-Roman perfectionism to Ingres to Mel Ramos to Mapplethorpe to Avedon, Beecroft, and even a thought of Marilyn Minter. Maslansky is attracted to the frank acceptance with which physical lust is treated in the world of pornography, and potentially in art, as opposed to the threat of judgement or shame with which such matters are met in the social world of religion and law. In these demimondes, everything is allowed, everything is consensual, and transgression is just one more service we offer.
Some works have leather sewn in where amoebic large-scale stain-derived shapes would otherwise be painted. The effect is subtle, perceptible only at great proximity. It’s witty, it’s sexy, it feels smart and naughty and it’s fun to know his wife did those parts. Leather is after all the height of luxury seduction gear, and of authority. In the compositions it does the work of painting and of pleasure, alleviating the flatness of the painted surfaces in which space is left as breathless as the sex partners.
Maslansky is also experimenting with longer, narrower canvas shapes, which have an effect referencing Art Deco style architectural treatments, like panels or stylized Caryatids in a Fellini take on the Chrysler Building. In one sense, those pieces further untether the compositions from the world of photography/realism, by their attenuations underscoring the operative function of his abstract sight. Yet the charm of the more conventionally constructed panels remains in the more equal split of their hybrid appearances; in other words the emotional investment is higher in the works that require the viewer to decode and decide for themselves exactly what they are dealing with -- to choose their own adventure within each scene and discover where their own comfort boundaries are along the territories of seduction and intellect. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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