Sunday, November 23, 2003

'Crimes' views '80s with activist's eye

Art review

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Keith Haring's cartoon (top) and Haim Steinbach's sculpture (above) are different takes on the huge influence of corporations in America.
While walking through the Crimes and Misdemeanors show at the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, the theme song from VH1's I Love the '80s went round and round in my head.

Crimes, a nod to the iconic artists of the decade, is the swan song for senior curator Thom Collins, who leaves the center next month for the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. It's a survey of insatiable corporate power, deadly sex, consumerism and identity with work by '80s superstars splayed between the zigzag galleries of the Zaha Hadid-designed building.

Robert Mapplethorpe is back, too.

Collins has done a great job in his selection for this show, making the political his personal statement. To organize the racial, gender, social and political platforms, he divides the show into fourths.

Entering the large gallery on the second floor you are first struck by Keith Haring's cartoon of a corporate monster devouring the artist's signature red graffiti men. By the mid-80s, Haring was the poster boy for graffiti artists. He used his accessible art and celebrity status to promote numerous causes, such as AIDS, the rights of the homeless, and the fight against teen drug use. This characterization of corporate greed epitomizes the "Institutional (Critiques)" section.

Critiques sharp

Mike Bidlo's "Study in Beige, Green, Red and Black" on an opposing wall is a copy of a Jackson Pollock drip painting, a comment on assigning worth within a museum context.

Hans Haacke's "Helmsboro Country," an oversized cigarette box featuring a Jesse Helms portrait where the Marlboro cowboy should be, takes on the Phillip Morris practice of promoting tobacco around concepts of freedom.

What: Crimes and Misdemeanors: Politics in U.S. Art of the 1980s
When: Through Nov. 21, 2004; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday; noon-6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, 44 E. Sixth St., downtown
Admission: $6.50, $5.50 seniors, $4.50 students with ID, $3.50 children 3-13
Information: 345-8400 and Web site
"Sex (Kills)," the strongest of the sections, addresses issues of gender, feminism and the AIDS pandemic. Eric Fischl and David Salle offer large portraits that comment on the representation of the feminine body.

Mapplethorpe's self portrait, taken just before he died, stands over a line of photographs by Glenn Ligon that correspond to the notorious Mapplethorpe portfolio that caused such a brouhaha in Cincinnati. Ligon's shots, however, are not of gay men's sexuality, but rather a sentence explaining the content of each of Mapplethorpe's shots.

Deborah Kass graphically brings together fragments from erotically charged paintings by Salle over a field of abstract expressionism a la Pollock, then overlays a self portrait of Picasso creating a critical look at the connection between masculine energy/sexual power and painterly prowess.

The artists in "Identity" demonstrate how stereotypes of ethnicity, gender, race and sexuality are continually circulated through the culture. By using mainly found objects, the artists work to undermine these stereotypes.

David Hammons' "Skillets in the Closet" shows a selection of cooking pans hanging inside a kitchen cupboard. Hammons collected the pans from his family and other African-American friends. The skillets are the skeletons in his closet, slang for people of mixed race.

In "Have (and Have Nots)" artists take on rampant consumerism, Reaganomics and the gap between the rich and poor. This work goes way beyond the canvas to direct aid on the part of artist.

Homeless collaboration

The Artist and Homeless Collaborative enlisted artists to visit shelters to extend their own work through collaboration with shelter residents. On the "have" side, Haim Steinbach's "Supremely Black" shows two ceramic pitches and two boxes of Bold detergent on a shelf. Taking inspiration from American advertising, Steinbach emphasizes the impact design/display has on our decisions to buy.

Videos, installations and Christy Rupp's lithographs of rats running around the baseboards of the museum make for interesting viewing.

The exhibition is on through Nov. 21 of next year.


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