Joyce Pensato @ Friedrich Petzel Gallery
January 12 - February 25, 2012
537 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011
I just saw ‘Batman Returns.’ Not the 1992 movie with Michael Keaton. The exhibition of new artwork by Joyce Pensato, now showing at Friedrich Petzel Gallery. Keaton is nowhere in sight (I hear he’s working on Multiplicity 2) but the original Batman actor, Adam West, does make an appearance, as do many familiar faces.
In fact, Pensato’s work plays with some of the most famous characters in cartoon history. And who’s the most famous cartoon ever? I’ll give you a hint: he wears white gloves and his voice is higher than Michael Jackson’s. That’s right, I mean Mickey Mouse. He’s all over Pensato’s exhibition in the form of stuffed animals, toys, and other memorabilia. Pensato’s artwork pays tribute to Mickey, Donald, Gonzo, Elmo, and the other familiar characters from our youth. And when I say “pays tribute,” I mean, “completely desecrates.”
The show takes the form of large-scale paintings and several sculptural installations. Almost everything in this show is splattered with black and white paint. In the installation Fuggetabout It III (2012), a stuffed Mickey lies flat on his face as if passed out from a night of hard drinking with his friend the Cookie Monster. Not far from the comatose toys, an army of abandoned Tickle Me Elmos stands with their arms outstretched, desperate for a hug. But there are no hugs in Pensato’s world. Like the island of misfit toys in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, these toys are forgotten.
The artist added insult to injury by gooping wet paint all over them. The dried up paint sits in buckets that litter the gallery. Paint-splattered milk crates add to the impression of the gallery being an artist’s studio. It looks like Jackson Pollock came through for a residency and, finding a pile of stuffed animals but no canvas, made due. Having witnessed the paint-flinging carnage from his perch on a ladder, Cartman from South Park issues his trademark wail. Donald Duck stares into space with wide eyes that reveal his shellshock. If Santa Claus had made it out alive, I don’t know what he would say, but he didn’t survive; his face is blanked out with white paint.
On the walls of the showroom hang the large scale paintings. Like Warhol’s Mao or Marilyn, each painting features a face front and center. But they’re not famous people; they’re famous cartoons. Homer Simpson, Donald Duck, and the most repeated, Batman. But what’s the Dark Knight got to do with all of this? His name appears in the title of the exhibition, after all. Does Bruce Wayne’s pathos mirror that of pop culture? That’s a weird thought. Does pop culture suffer? If pop culture had a pulse, would it have an existential crisis?
JOYCE PENSATO Batman I 2011 Enamel and metallic paint on linen 48 x 40 inches 121.9 x 101.6 cm Signed, titled and dated verso
Dan Tarnowski is a writer and artist in Brooklyn. He runs the small publisher On Lives Press and is currently working on a collection of short fiction.view all articles from this author