Amber Boardman’s Regrowth, at Sandler Hudson Gallery through October 21, brilliantly addresses both contemporary painting and contemporary culture. How you respond to the exhibition may depend on how you feel about either or both.
An exquisitely thought-out mix of attraction and repulsion, the paintings and works on paper satirize a whole range of present-day types and conditions, although the satire is, on an obscure level, mixed with compassion for the human condition. These people are wretched messes, but so are we. The disheveled, bearded quasi-hipster of Can’t Even, the distraught square-jawed figure expressing dismay in Election Day, or the unconvincing display of confidence in Realtor Optimism are all figures or situations we have encountered. They and their similarly discomfited companions are rendered with slashes of paint that go beyond the ordinary definition of “loose.”
It’s not that these homages to the present-day successors of the “bad painting” movement create either delight or disgust, although some viewers are firmly in the love-it-or-hate-it camps. It’s that, for many of us, they evoke both at once.
That tension is interesting and would confirm this show’s importance even without its exploration of the emotional fragilities of human beings trying and failing to live up to what society expects of them. (The show title refers to the reappearance of the original color of dyed hair, only one of the “unsuccesses” under examination.) The tangled mess that is Makeover Magic is one spectacular example, but the most appealing piece of pathos is perfectly described by its title, Mismatched Bikini Asymmetrical Wig. This unfortunate combination of misguided attire and artifice appears on a poorly proportioned figure who sprawls uncomfortably on a towel at the beach. Even the sun’s reflection in the ocean is out of kilter, as though nature echoed this not quite composed example of culture.
Louis Corrigan has contributed an incisive catalog essay that makes it unnecessary to enumerate the influences and stylistic strategies of this exhibition — a good thing, for the misleadingly slapdash look of these intelligently composed artworks actually requires more formal analysis than viewers laughing at their wry charm might wish to read in a less leisurely format.