From the sea of summer group shows I trekked through the other night, two artists stood out: Benjamin Terry and Kerry Pacillio, both on view at Cohn Drennan in a show called 110˚. Why I liked their work more than anyone else’s isn’t entirely clear to me, except to say that it played more smartly than other work, or at least I think it did, but I may be wrong. Group shows, one after another on a hot July night can make a brain, er, foggy (read: bored), and Terry and Pacillio’s work actually made me consider thinking.
Benjamin Terry’s Outsiders (above) is a washed-out, pastel-colored, fairly benign-looking painting of two groups of young men facing each other. The boys are shaggy-haired and clad in skinny jeans and cardigans, and each dons a pair of Toms, the ubiquitous shoes of hipsters everywhere. Each of the boys looks exactly like the other, save subtle alterations in outfits, and each affects a casual, limp knee-ed and disaffected pose, though the moment pictured here is tense and, in fact, confrontational: the stripe-shirted pack of guys on the left seems to be accusing the right-hand side of something of which the latter is in denial.
The scene reminds me of those described in A Clockwork Orange, just before Alex and his droogs dole out tolchoks, only this scene by Terry is limp and nearly passive. One hardly expects any ultra-violence to erupt from these self-consciously coiffed and homogenously stylish characters. One imagines the heated dialogue between the guys to be over something like who started wearings Toms first or who likes some indie band from Portland more, and one hardly imagines any of the blokes capable of real conviction or the ability to defend it. Then again, there’s the possibly that all of the men in Outsiders are in fact the same person, and the painting isn’t a commentary on foppish, unconvicted hipster-types at all, but is rather a hipster’s narcissistic portrayal of narcissism, but I hope not.
Kerry Pacillio’s Oracle — an old, narrow, wall-mounted door that’s been bashed open, revealing pink insulation on the other side — culls from motifs used by icons like Louise Nevelson, Claes Oldenburg and Gordon Matta-Clark, but adds a contemporary twist of rubble-derelection that’s much about these days. That’s not to say that Ms. Pacillio is obediently bowing to her predecessors or running with a fad; her riffing is refined and confident, and pleasantly cheeky. While revealing the aftermath of violence, the abused door here gives way to pink foam, creating a kind of negation — the cotton candy insulation trumps the implicit violence of the hole-riddled door through its cheerfulness and literal padding. As in all of her work, Pacillio is layering meaning through associations. It works.