Allison Schulnik: Eager
ZieherSmith Gallery, NYC
Through February 22, 2014
And it's a battered old suitcase

to a hotel someplace

and a wound that will never heal

no prima donna, the perfume is on

an old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey

and goodnight to the street sweepers,

the night watchmen flame keepers

and goodnight Mathilda, too.

Tom Waits, "Waltzing Mathilda"

"The Hobo, as a visual trope, represents the last truly transgressive figure in art… kitsch paintings of clown-like characters with bindlestiffs and colorful handkerchiefs camouflage a predatory underclass of thieves, pedophiles, rapists, and murderers."

Dr. Hope Ardizzone, Oblivion and Contingency in Post-Modern Painting

Allison Schulnik's second exhibition at ZieherSmith presents drawings, sculpture, paintings, and installation pieces surrounding and supporting her most recent animated film, Eager (2013). Schulnik, drawing from a variety of sources (Busby Berkeley, Lewis Carroll, her former teachers Jules Engel and Corny Cole, Bob Ross, and Antoine Watteau) choreographs a stop-motion, clay-mation voyage through a world of blossoming and decaying creatures of both the flora and fauna variety. Haunting specters stretch, transmogrify, and multiply in synchronized movement, following the natural entropy of nature -- things are born, then bloom, then die. Schulnik addresses what she calls “the obvious things -- need, hope, sadness, desire, disorder, chaos, and self-absorption.”

In order to create the film, Schulnik eschewed CGI technology in favor of a thirteen-month, labor-intensive process where she animated thousands of frames, constructed with over sixty-five puppets made of clay, fabric, wire, wood, paint, and glue. Schulnik's process-oriented film work brings together references as diverse as Stan Brakhage and Matthew Barney -- both film makers who privilege the physicality of movie making over narrative. The film is presented in an alcove, reminiscent of an old-timey picture show -- it is spot-on. Paul Schrader's film The Canyons (2013) framed the narrative of the film with shots of decaying movie theaters in LA -- there is something a little haunting, a little haunted, about a kind of architecture that is so associated with the Modernism of the twentieth century -- and that is largely being eroded from the landscape of the twenty-first.

As in her last exhibition, Schulnik's paintings and sculptures, which relate both in content and style to her film, are interesting variations and expansions of her subjects. For example, a large painting, St. Louis Man (2013), pictures, in a thickly troweled canvas, a skulking hobo in a lush forest.

In contrast to her watercolors (Blue Dancer #2, 2013) or sculpture (Alizarin Flower, 2013), which operate on a level of High Art with nods to Georgia O'Keefe, Rodin, Hannah Wilke, and Robert Arneson, Schulnik's painting mix High and Low in equal proportion, managing to combine Red Skelton and Alberto Giacometti convincingly.

As a philosopher who saw "transientness" (as opposed to vagrancy or homelessness) as the existential archetype of the post-World War II human condition, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote of Giacometti:

"[His] ambiguous images are disconcerting, for they upset our most cherished visual habits. We have long been accustomed to smooth, mute creatures fashioned for the purpose of curing us of the sickness of having a body; these guardian spirits have watched over the games of our childhood and bear witness to the notion that the world is without risks, that nothing ever happens, and consequently, that the only thing that ever happened to them was death at birth."

Schulnik evokes not only Sartre, but also Beckett, in this depiction of a super-creepy Vladimir or Estragon, furtively lurking outside her entropic cinema. - Bradley Rubenstein

ZieherSmith Gallery is at 516 W. 20th Street, New York, New York 10011.


Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.