This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.

Carl Ostendarp at Elizabeth Dee

Carl Ostendarp at Elizabeth Dee, installation view.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Dee.

Carl Ostendarp, 1987 - 2007
Elizabeth Dee Gallery - 545 W. 20 St, New York NY
1 December 2007 - 12 January 2007

I walked into Elizabeth Dee transfixed not only by the works hanging on the walls, but the transformation of the space itself. With the top edges of the walls oozing pastel-hued candy pink paint drips I was transported back to a limited recollection of the pre-school phenomena — mud pies in the backyard, cooking apple sauce for the first time, little boys running to the bathroom with pants down, leaking all the way onto milk-vomit covered floors.

Childhood is all about an inundation of bodily fluids, and as we grow older we attempt to immerse ourselves in forgetting about them, or perhaps more or less acknowledge they're there, but not letting them dominate our memories.

In Carl Ostendarp's work, the artist quietly references the body's makeup and its processes through pop culture abstraction; body-like fluids take on a cartoonish quality with the flatness of his paint application. This retrospective of the artist's work currently on display offers a unique look at the his development in this regard since the late 80s.

Carl Ostendarp, "IFFFFPFP",  2007, 36 x 51 inches
Carl Ostendarp, "IFFFFPFP", 2007, 36 x 51 inches.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Dee.

Take his epoxy and urethane foam sculptures — 1992's Anything to Please feels soft and cushiony as it lies flat on the floor, a sort of failed bean-bag in nature. It conjures up not only bodily fluids and functions, but also their containment. The perfect circle on the floor is at once evocative of a condom, spilt milk, or spread seed. Here the art focuses not only on material, but the process itself. The piece lies as a biomorphic take on art's relation to the human body — an expression of the self and its limits.

Keeping on the rubber-theme, in the painting IFFFFPFP we see hot pink letters gradually trail off to the lower right, suggesting that someone may have deflated the artist's balloon. This is yet another foray into Pop references — perhaps a "Pow!" or "Bam!" nod to Lichtenstein — and a flaccid metaphor for the artist's failure to connect with both audience and subject. Could this be Ostendarp's own expression of self-doubt; a long, exhaled sigh?

My favorite piece in the show is from 1999: "Untitled (Couple Painting – Yellow), in which two fluid hands reach from opposite corners of the canvas, nearly touching. Ostendarp evokes racial identity with a minimum palette of only three colors . Remember turkey hands at Thanksgiving? Each and every finger is given so many possibilities, though in this case the humanoid appendages look almost muppet-like in comparison. Viewing this painting and others, I kept examining the surfaces of Ostendarp's works. So many have been made absolutely and perfect in their softness, with a seemingly obsessive canvas preparation; the linen's texture disappearing under an almost glass-like application of vinyl paint.

To return to the work's content content, it's clear that Ostendarp is distinctly aware of the role of art as commerce, and artist as product. In By Me, a hot pink Dr. Suess typeface apprears on a powder blue background spelling out the work's title. This simple phrase equates the image's content to its signature and commercial value. The work here is not only a branded imprint of "Created by Carl Ostendarp," but makes the signature the work's content--like a neon advertisement pandering to the public to "BUY me--." Here is an artist not afraid of selling himself or his work, and backing it up with quality throughout.

Carl Ostendarp, "By Me"
Carl Ostendarp, "By Me," acrylic on linen.
Courtesy of Tom Moody