Review: Man bites painting at Vox Populi

Brian Kokoska's "Healing Hands" (2010) is part of Vox Populi exhibit. His paintings conjure an underworld of sexual deviancy.
Brian Kokoska's "Healing Hands" (2010) is part of Vox Populi exhibit. His paintings conjure an underworld of sexual deviancy.
Posted: June 24, 2012

Things have changed since 1961, when Jasper Johns made his Painting Bitten by a Man, an encaustic painting out of which he actually took a chomp, thereby embedding it with a vague eroticism (that Johns, a quiet gay man, kept the painting in his personal collection for many years before giving it to MoMA only added to its mystique). Now, a few decades down the road, another "Painting Bitten by a Man" — this time an exhibition at Vox Populi titled after the Johns painting — brings together the efforts of two artists, Brian Kokoska and Jonathan VanDyke, who seem happy to let their queer sensibilities permeate every aspect of their art.

I did not see VanDyke's presentation of his three-hour performance, Cordoned Area, on opening night, but have since walked around the large piece of canvas on Vox Populi's floor on which two male dancers cavorted with each other and paint, covering their clothing and the canvas (and part of the wall behind) in smudges and smears of vivid turquoise, purple, orange, and pink. The residue makes for a lively abstraction, but you also realize how deeply and broadly the human body is impressed and implicated in this work. Yves Klein, who famously directed nude women to roll around in blue paint on canvas, is the obvious touchstone.

VanDyke's sculptures and photographs, installed in two other rooms, are surprisingly formal in contrast to the remnants of his performance, although several wall-mounted sculptures have been constructed to leak puddles of multicolored paint on the floor.

Interestingly (and surely intentionally) several sculptures bring the obfuscation of Johns' early work to mind, especially his Painting No. 1, whose jute-covered upper section suggests a half-pulled window shade. By contrast, VanDyke's photographs from his "Equivalent" series are often frankly funny. Into his photographs of spreads from art magazines and catalogues from the 1960s and 1970s — whose articles seem to imply that art is the province of heterosexual men — VanDyke inserts unrelated photographs of found photographs of silly-looking or -behaving men, thereby putting his own gay spin on the original. (The exhibition's title actually comes from VanDyke''s own Painting Bitten by a Man (Equivalent), a photograph in which a photograph of an open book on gay behaviors is displayed in front of a photograph of Johns' painting).

Kokoska's colorful, expressionistic paintings conjure an underworld of sexual deviancy, and one of them is strikingly explicit (vet the back gallery before taking children in). Some of the subjects of his portraits look like innocents, others have horrible leering expressions, but what lends an extra creepy edge to this work is Kokoska's childlike manner of painting.

Meanwhile, his small painted clay sculptures of figures look like sex objects made by adolescents while the art teacher was out of the room. Much of Kokoska's work tries too hard to shock — and who's easily shocked anymore, anyway?

Vox Populi, 319 N. 11th St., 12 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. 215-238-1236 or www.voxpopuligalleryllery.org. Through July 1.

Mad, mad world

Want to feel as though you're inside a painting but left the faucet dripping?

Open the door to Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art and walk right in.

Tim Ead's site-specific installation, "Species of Spaces" — the title comes from George Perecs' book of the same name, in which the author ruminates on the ways humans occupy urban and domestic spaces — takes over this small gallery with geometric floor and wall paintings, assemblages of everyday objects dripping water, electrically powered machines that produce sound, and assorted other objects and materials (the auditory components of this installation were developed by Austen Brown, a sound artist). Judy Pfaff and Jessica Stockholder are Ead's antecedents, but he's taken his work into mad-scientist territory.

Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art, 173 W. Girard Ave., 12 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. 267-519-3884 or www.rebekahtempleton.com. Through Saturday.

Pipe dream

Robert Gay and Lucy Begg, who make up Thoughtbarn, a multidisciplinary design studio in Austin, Texas, and who previously did good works for the Rural Studio, the Alabama program known for its design and construction of buildings for the needy, are the artists behind Manayunk's latest outdoor art installation.

"Escaped Infrastructure," which appears to rise magically from the canal at Connaroe Street, uses more than 50 feet of clear PVC tubes artfully twisted to suggest coursing water, concealed water pumps, and LED lights (all the better to attract nighttime visitors to the canal path) to sublime effect, dispensing canal water through its illuminated tubes when its motion sensors are activated by passersby.

Thoughtbarn's proposal for "Escaped Infrastructure" was the winning entry in a national competition sponsored by the Manayunk Development Corporation in partnership with Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program.

Sadly, it's here only for a short time.

Main and Connaroe Sts, Manayunk. Through July 29.

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