Pick of the Week for May 7th, 2012–Penises and Pussies, OH MY! The Carroll Dunham Drawing retrospective currently on exhibit at Blum and Poe is an uncommon pleasure. Just under 400 drawings, ranging in size from 3 x 4 inches to 16 x 20 inches, fill the second floor galleries with bravado, perspicacity and balls. To grasp the size and trajectory on view, it’s best to see Dunham’s endeavor as the development of a unique language. Vocabulary becomes iconography. Meaning comes out of syntax. Repetition alludes to inflection and further emphasizes content. The exhibition handsomely traces the trajectory of 30 years of Dunham’s visual vocabulary and his sentence structure. The potentials are seemingly infinite.
Early biomorphic abstractions are well represented in the 80’s. They place the artist squarely alongside Terry Winters in tapping a vein of visceral forms that appear to ooze and morph with squeamish fluidity. They are are slightly more repulsive than seductive but nonetheless fascinating. Then, along come the cocks.
Wonderfully crude and somewhat elemental graffito penises start entering the picture and all the rules have been changed. All bets are off. Ejaculate starts firing. One has seen these depictions in bath room stalls (and for that matter in several Cy Twombly paintings) but never quite like this. Here’s this character with a penis and balls for a nose sticking it in other people’s business. The figure often dones a chapeau and in a few strokes of tremendous confidence and velocity Dunham captures testosterone and swagger.
Dunham truely pulls the ultimate rabbit out of his hat by both embodying this swagger while remaining aloof and intelligent. He throws a punch while retaining critical faculties.
The female iconography follows shortly on the heels with upturned nipples and an occasional graphic uterus. In 4/19/00 #2 there’s even a child with gnashing teeth in said uterus.
Guns start being brandished and the twin poles of American pop culture, sex and violence, merge.
After seeing countless bald headed giggle sticks perhaps the best piece in the show is 3/22/05 which depicts a guy from behind, his ass exposed without pants and depicted as an negative pagota. His left hand is firmly gripping a gun by his side but his balls and male member are nowhere to be seen. Funny and raw.
The last seven years has seen the introduction of a highly stylized woman from behind, hairy pussy proudly presented. These images are a high wire act of abstraction and graphic depiction.
And lest I’ve lead you down the concrete descriptive path too far, what’s truly on display is an artist at the height of his draftsman-like talents. The media Dunham wields are encyclopedic. The effects he conjures are equally comprehensive. Pentimenti abound with erasures and adjustments. The vocabulary might be drawn but the narratives are limitless.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, May 8th, 2012
also by Mario M. Muller
- Mid-Century Modern at LAMA Auction House, Van Nuys - February 20th, 2014
- Robert Therrien at Gagosian, Beverly Hills - January 22nd, 2014
- Art Fair Season in Los Angeles - January 15th, 2014
- Roy Dowell at Various Small Fires - October 14th, 2013
- Leon Benn at Carter & Citizen - September 13th, 2013