Kitsch on quaaludes:
Poodle power rules in Holiday Melt at Solomon Projects
by Felicia Feaster
Creative Loafing, p. 57
March 13-19, 2002
Looking at David Humphrey's
melting, morphing poodles, Christmas trees and ice cream cones
is like waking up from a drug-induced nap in a 13-year-old girl's
bedroom circa 1972.
The merry citrus color scheme of tangerines, key lime greens and
Pledge yellows are an instant flashback to an Americana of Ice
Storm vintage, when bleary-eyed daddies shaved surrounded by bathroom
wallpaper flocked in hallucinogenic Spanish olive patterns and
collecting porcelain poodle curios might have been considered
socially acceptable behavior.
Mixing found objects, paintings and some freaked-out sculpture,
New York artist David Humphrey's show titled Holiday Melt uses
the word "melt" as in meltdown-- both mental and literal.
His daffy Christmas trees have gone as gooey as yesterday's Sno-Cone
and the totems of sunny, yummy, odor-free kitsch buckle under
the weight of our consumer expectations.
The nearly 6-foot-tall ice cream parfait "3 Scoops"
(executed in globs of yellow, green and pink) that greets viewers
in the Solomon Projects window is only a small sampling of the
goofy madness to come in a show that manages to be at once amusing,
lighthearted and dark around the edges.
Rounding the corner from this innocuous cone is a room that seems
to have been taken over by Santa's elves... if those elves were
the demented protég;és of Philip Guston, Jeff Koons
and some warped renegade from the Rankin/Bass studios.
Humphrey carves his large yummy-colored, pleasure-engorged sculptures
from foam, hydrocal and paper pulp, but what the material often
suggests is the more pedestrian form of papier-mache. The artist
seems to be striving for a comparably craftsy, loopy, childish
element to add a dimension of purposeful naiveté to his
interpretation of Cute Gone Wrong.
Humphrey's palette of pastel dessert colors also shows some of
the strain in selling perfect Christmases, manicured dogs that
never crap and ice cream that stays creamily upright. The too
perfect color scheme summons up the familiar experience of things
never tasting as good as they look.
"Guardian Poodle" sets the surreal tone in the interior
room of the gallery dominated by large sculptures. At an impressive
78 inches high, the gigantic elongated poodle lords over events
like the most perpetually obedient of pups and has some of the
creepy presence of Paul McCarthy's work, with a vaguely sexual
business going on about its rear quarters. Also featured in this
bad trip fantasyland is "Snow Covered Tree," a cartoon
evergreen that looks formed from mint icing left in the sun too
long, and "Poodle Melt," in which a yellow ice cream-like
substance drips into a puddle while a bevy of porcelain poodles
ride out the confectionery Holocaust on its top.
But the most striking pooch in this panoply of yippy-dogs has
to be the absurd mix of Christmas and puppies collapsed into one
creation, called simply "Poodle". Like a child who wants
all the good stuff together-- the sprinkles, the cherries, the
butterscotch, the whipped topping-- then heaves it up in the corner
of Baskin-Robbins, "Poodle" is an orgy of happiness
gone terribly, terribly wrong. A cutout, vaguely poodle-ish in
form and executed on plywood, has been rolled out into the gallery
on wheels and decorated with a crudely painted Christmas tree.
At the top is a ceramic poodle head where the star at tree tip-top
might go. Intensifying this life-out-of-balance mood, Humphrey
has decorated the hidden, bare plywood side of the poodle with
colorful Christmas tree lights. This subliminal decorating device
is repeated in another cartoonish cut-out sculpture of a "Snow
Pile," which Humphrey has ornamented with images of the artist's
name pissed in snow, kitschy wintertime scenes and other abstractions
of a less then perfect pile.
The mutated forms of Humphrey's work serve to spell out the mutations
of kitsch, with its pathetic urge to convey sentiment, sweetness,
cuteness, cuddliness and yumminess via kitties, forlorn children
and clowns bearing daisies. Humphrey has tapped into the nightmare
aspect of that kitsch impulse, and his melting, dripping forms
suggest objects unable to withstand the power of their own iconography
and collapsing into a gooey, sticky mess.
The idea of melting referenced again and again in the show suggests
an element of disillusionment when all the fun goes out of the
illusion and Santa is revealed as just another fat man in a red