By Tom Wachunas
From Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary:
1. a worthless or trifling ornament; a trinket; a bauble
2. [pl.] showy gaieties
3. a jest; trick; sport; fraud [Obs.]
“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” -Andy Warhol
EXHIBIT: Oxytocin – works by Maxim Rossett at BLISS Gallery, 334 4th Street NW, downtown Canton, THROUGH SEPTEMBER, Tuesdays-Fridays Noon-4 p.m.
First, a caveat about reasonable art gallery protocol. At the time I closely viewed this exhibit, it was several days after the artist reception and public opening (which I could not attend). Some works had already sold and were out of the building. It’s possible that if you stop by to see the show in the coming weeks, you might not see the same show I saw. I think that professional etiquette in the context of the Arts District requires fairness to the interested viewing public – and the artist – by leaving all the work intact and viewable until a clearly stated end date. After all, we’re talking about art exhibits here, and not just glorified garage sales. ‘Nuff said.
File this review under confessions of a conflicted voyeur. There’s a certain irony in naming this art exhibit “Oxytocin,” after a hormonal neurotransmitter that reportedly dispels anxiety or fear while engendering feelings of affectionate bonding. While I’m loathe to “love” these mixed media works on paper and canvas by Maxim Rossett, there are marginal aspects I “like,” if only in the Facebook application of the word. Liking something in that electronic universe is an ambiguous signifier, and not necessarily a clear indication of a wholeheartedly warm embrace of a specific idea or content. I respectfully ask that as you read on, hold that thought.
The July 29 posting at www.curatorialcollective.com tells us that “noted influences” in Rossett’s art include such modernist luminaries as Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet, Philip Guston, and Cy Twombly. Yet based on the pictorial evidence we see in this exhibit, the influence of those particular painters often seems more incidental and peripheral than consistently substantive.
I think a more revelatory exploration of historical precedents for Rossett’s punk-funk, “low-brow” approach can take us as at least as far back as the “anti-art” shenanigans of the Dada movement, which emerged just after World War I in Europe. The prevailing spirit among the Dadaists was one of vociferous disgust with what they perceived to be the utter corruption of Western culture. Their dismantling of traditional academic definitions and practices of art-making essentially climaxed a process that had begun during the last few decades of the 19th century. The seeds of their discontent would nevertheless grow into the daunting diversity of other ideas and methods that would shape all of 20th century Modern Art.
Additionally, the frenetic drawing energy apparent in many of Rossett’s configurations, combined with the loose, spontaneous painting style (though too often appearing diffident and arbitrary) is in many ways a throwback to the “Neo-Expressionism” of the 1980s. In particular, the graphic impact of his figurative renderings at times brings to mind the urban graffiti character and brutally raw stylizations of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s (1960-88) paintings.
Rossett’s works aren’t really “compositions” in any ostensibly elegant or traditional (academic) sense, though his black and white drawings do employ a relatively more sleek cohesiveness. They are, rather, sprawling juxtapositions, or panoramic collisions of disparate (and desperate) cartoons, appropriated imagery, cryptic symbols and frenzied, obsessive patterns often interspersed with textual content. Whether single words and phrases, or snippets of dialogue between the zany residents of these montages, they seem to constitute a collective sociopolitical commentary (sometimes with religious undertones) or philosophical treatise on…you name it.
In one of the black and white drawings (unfortunately, there are no titles posted with the pieces), a thought balloon, hovering over the profile of a grimacing man holding a smiley-face mask on a stick in front of him, reads “Emotions grow hysterical beneath the passivity.” Just to the right of that passage, scrawled in jittery letters above the headless body of a nude woman, are the words “GAWD IS NOT DEAD.” And neither is gaud.
Rossett’s pictures are meandering streams of consciousness (his, ours, or both?) that might describe a disjunctive flea market of the mind. Their compositional anarchy, and their sheer density of visual data is perhaps a symbol of, or messy paean to the dizzying manifestations and functions of contemporary social media. Therein, searching for the sublime and meaningful amid the ugly, the absurd, and the just plain silly, can be an exasperating exercise.
For that reason alone, I’ve often been tempted to unfriend the entire institution of Facebook, for example. Yet like many of us, I am easily hooked. Similarly, despite my ambivalence toward the brand of art practiced by Mr. Rossett, I can’t seem to stop looking at his derivative doodlings.