“Rough Bush” works to undo what every common suburban household values most - safety through stuff – and reveals the artist’s vision of the suburb’s safety as a web of prejudices, group sex, chemical dependencies and general misinterpretations, co-opting spirituality, teeming with underlying sexual tension or unknown goings on of teens, gangbangs, punk, Goth, and rap… all to return home to the safety of your Laura Ashley decorated room. The exhibition puts its own value system into play with its totems, knick knacks, fetishes, and fine art, which try to be a little more up front about the hidden nuances of the suburbs as a holy ground for rebellious youth, spurning new kinds of creativity daily.
On view at Allston Skirt Gallery is a large, silver-painted tumbleweed sitting atop a shipping crate. It is surrounded by a triptych of grainy, underexposed photos of a living room in which a woman looks down her own pants; a shelf covered in clippings from pornography; a photo in which an unknown woman (presumably the artist) spray-paints her pubic hair to match her shirt in day-glo pink and a collage of nude women from men's magazines.
Rough Bush! Get it?
While it has become common to expect less and less of artists in their historical references, Stoltmann barely accomplishes the meager task of alluding to Richards Prince and Billingham (and maybe some Heienken); the former through magazine porn and the latter with poorly exposed photos. What's left is a show that is insulting on so many levels. Her artist statement refers to "the suburbs as a holy ground for rebellious youth" yet we are presented stale, sophomore-year versions of rebellion, neither complex in its actions nor its representation of youthful angst as anything deep or complex. There is a sense that the artist is still giggling at the idea of using the word "bush" in a gallery context, as if this is rebellion on a grand scale and her audience not in on the joke; instead, the joke is so tired and juvenile that it barely manages a parody of itself.
I left this show feeling insulted, unsure of what I was supposed to have taken from the work other than a feeling of annoyance. Not all art needs to be beautiful, or meaningful, but Stoltmann only gives us porn and dirty jokes, visually unappealing and conceptually vapid. Many shows fail to succeed in conveying anything of substance, but few do it with such a smirking knowledge of how little they are saying.
Generally, Allston Skirt Gallery is a gallery with a strong and consistent vision. Is Stoltmann just an odd show, or is there something missing? Am I wrong, and this is the work we will be discussing two years from now? I hope not.
Allston Skirt Gallery
"Rough Bush: Artifacts and Heirlooms" is on view until March 31st, 2007 at Allston Skirt Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Allston Skirt Gallery.