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Susan Bee exhibition at Granary Books
"An Exhibition on Susan Bee." Review by Robert C. Morgan.

through February 28

There are many aspects to Susan Bee's paintings which are important to consider. They are generally not large-scale works. Rather they are reasonably intimate, but not pretentiously so. The viewer can make close contact with the surface, but one also is invited to step back and take in the whole picture. Bee's approach to painting is part gestural and part collage. The collage and assemblage elements are taken from children's stickers, decals, paperback covers from the 40s, fragments of dolls and older toys. The aesthetic tendency is located somewhere in the realm of Neo-Dada. It represents a kind of Beat Feminism.

There is nothing slick about these works. If anything, Bee goes toward the older direction... There is seemingly no particular attention given to color coordination. The structure of the painting is loose, never too clearly defined. Often she makes use of swirls or drips of paint a la Pollock. This is a very deliberate and conscious maneuver. One might say that Bee's paintings offer a kind of implicit critique of the masterful brush stroke or the sacred drip.

What exactly are these paintings about? Frivolity? Cynicism? I think not. Rather they seem to be about a layering of traces, an embedding of a certain kind of history. They are like memory traces in which the self cannot separate itself from the effects of devolution wrought by popular (patriarchal) culture. Even where children's toys and images are concerned, there is the struggle to find what is real amid the simulated glut which abounds even at a young age.

Bee is aware of these traces. Her paintings offer a kind of playfulness, yet they are, on a more serious note, a semiotics of play. In so doing, the offhand innocence of these strokes and drips enclosing popular imagery and appropriated from other sources makes us reflect on the condition of life as a system of signs that are perpetually enforcing their ideology upon us.

Accompanying the exhibition is a new artist book, entitled Little Orphan Anagram, which is a collaboration with her husband, the poet Charles Bernstein. Bee and Bernstein have worked together in the past on other book projects, some of which can be seen in a glass vitrine. The book format functions well for both artist and poet, often calling upon the condition of the absurd as seen in conflicting images or juxtaposed image/text fusions. There is a delightful interplay of linguistic resonances as Bernstein's light, yet heady, verse reverberates off the images, and vice versa. As with the paintings, semiotics is the name of the game—a game worth the play, and a play constructed from unburdened insight.

Granary Books 168 Mercer Street, 2nd floor New York, NY 10012 USAtel 212 337 9979fax 212 337 9774info@granarybooks.com

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