Killing Joke

David Moriarty: Halcyon Daze
CREON Gallery
Through September 29, 2011

(Audience Applause)…okay…so a guy calls into work. He tells his boss he can’t come in that day because he’s sick. The boss says, “Okay. No problem. Take the day off. How sick are you, anyway?” The guy says, “I just fucked my sister.” (Laughter) ...Thank you.

Sigmund Freud said, “A joke is a contract of mastery at another person’s expense.” Meaning, essentially, we laugh at the misfortunes of others while admiring our own, more fortunate, position. Jokes reveal, and play with, our inner fears (see above: social faux pas), relationships to power and money (see above: talking to the boss), and social taboos (see above: incest). Shakespeare’s comedies often reveal more of the human condition than did his tragedies. Humor in art is a rare thing, especially in painting, as quite often the viewer is never sure if the whole enterprise is a joke.David Moriarty’s exhibition Halcyon Daze manages to be witty, yet not mean-spirited. Moriarty combines narratives, or fractured fairy tales, as it were, and weaves together scenes and characters from pop culture, art history, and his own imagination seamlessly.

In Britneys (2008) [above], Britney Spears, wearing a white dress, sits in front of another Britney Spears dressed in the manner of Thomas Gainsborough's The Blue Boy, smoking a pipe. This strange, pastoral image is framed (and framed again) by trompe l’oeil trellises and gilded picture frames. The whole scene is a series of receding depictions, like Alice down the rabbit hole, which creates the impression that we aren’t looking at an attempt to show an alternate reality, but, rather, we are being told a story that probably wasn't all that true to begin with.

In My Christmas (2008) we get Elaine de Kooning -- possibly two of them – nude, one wearing a sun bonnet, lounging flirtatiously in front of stacks of colorfully wrapped and ribboned boxes. One Elaine fondles a faux wood-grained frame, which is engraved with "My Christmas," a play on how Pablo Picasso used to sign his works with fake nameplates in the canvas. Goofy, for sure, but the writer Jacques Vaché wrote about "the theatrical and joyless futility of everything" -- a pretty close description of this giant stack of Christmas boxes and Elaines. Remember, Elaine, wife of Willem de Kooning, was a painter who was as well known for her giant shoe collection as she was for her paintings of buffaloes…(Applause/Audience laughter)…HECKLER: “You suck!”…Shut up Dad, you're drunk, go home…so, anyway, maybe the whole thing is making fun of de Kooning’s generation of artists, with their existentialist pretentions cloaking their avarice, or maybe it is just the setup; Moriarity’s sense of humor precludes spoon-feeding us punch lines.


Joan Miró wrote in a letter to his art dealer that he wanted to "assassinate painting" in the 1930s, meaning that he was about to embark on a series of humorous paintings and drawings that used artistic conventions to create wry, funny commentaries on the act of painting. Miró's sense of humor was a little more acerbic, though no less perverse than Moriarity's. Bunny, Beers, Babe (2009) is, well, just that. A bunny rabbit, with its references to Joseph Beuys, Alice in Wonderland, and Japanese suits of armor, hands the titular girl a frosty beverage. Three-dimensional lettering spells out "As Is," storybook style, like an obscure narration. "As Is," like "Runs Great" signs at used car lots, sets the tone for this piece -- where better to find guys in funny suits that are going to tell you stories that probably aren’t true. Well, maybe in an art gallery. (Laughter) Thank you… (Applause) - Bradley Rubenstein

CREON Gallery is at 238 East 24 Street, 1B in New York City.

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


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