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Man Eater at Deitch Projects

"Man Eater" installation view. Via Dietch Projects.
Man Eater installation view. Via Deitch Projects.

Man Eater
Aurel Schmidt
Deitch Projects - 76 Grand Street, New York NY
4 October - 1 November 2008

There's nothing wild about Man Eater, Aurel Schmidt's debut at Deitch Projects. Here she reinterprets modernist masters in the form of city detritus. Jackson Pollock's Number 8 is recast as Everything Means Nothing To Me, a listless punk assemblage of moist wipes, condoms, dead sparrows, maggots, flies, worms, lipstick, caps to Duane Reade prescriptions, and various brands of cigarettes. Willem de Kooning's Woman And Bicycle becomes Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle, an act of feminist defacement in which the depicted figure's grin is transformed into candy colored dildo lips with cigarette teeth, while her breasts become mice and car deodorizers. While the sexualization of female subjects by certain modernist painters seems to offend Schmidt, what her own work achieves remains unclear. Her drawing ability is undercut by her unfocused vision. The largest work in the exhibition is Schmidt's take on Morris Louis' Alpha-Pi, titled So Damn Pure. Images of bloody Band-Aids, partially-chewed take-out, rainbow M&M-chip cookies, and sardines fill the blocks of color she saturated with urine, beer, and Kool-Aid. By reinserting clear pictures into a form meant to dispense with imagery, and taking her subject matter for her medium, her version appears overstuffed.

Schmidt is not Tony Shafrazi tagging Guernica in 1974, nor is she Valerie Solanas advocating the Society to Cut Up Men. She's merely angsty by comparison. Of her mission, the press release says that Schmidt "sees the progression of Modern Art as chasing a purity she seeks to problematize." She interprets this literally by converting the line of the original brush strokes into trash. In terms of the abstract expressionist paintings she's chosen, purity can have a variety of meanings. She could be referring to the artists' unbridled subjectivity which guides some of these works. Pollock, among others, imagined a beyond behind the canvas, where the physical act of creation became as important as the final work itself. She might also be referring to the relationship between ideology and technique. Abstraction -- freedom from the symbolic and representational baggage of painting -- reflected the spirit of a liberal, post-war market of ideas and commodities, long since in the historical making. We see the techniques and forms of modern painting divested of their political and intellectual significance. Man Eater is charming and rebellious fun, but hopefully her future work will treat these art historical trajectories with the same precision of her lines. The effect is otherwise existential Where's Waldo: What are we searching for?