Pamela Rosenkranz’s “My Sexuality”

Mitchell Anderson

July 23, 2014
Karma International, Zürich
June 14–July 26, 2014

Pamela Rosenkranz’s exhibition at Karma International in Zürich is a complete mess. At first glance, the show lacks the sleek style and execution one has come to expect from an artist who has made a career exploring the slick visual codes and branding techniques used to commodify the natural world. Over the past eight years, Rosenkranz’s critical eye has been drawn to the marketing of bottled water, the anthropomorphization of house paint, even French Nouveau Réalist Yves Klein’s claiming of the sky as his own work of art. This time, however, she has completely wrapped the interior of Karma International’s large storefront location sited on an urban strip mall in loose plastic sheeting, creating what looks like—and at different times, feels like—a studio situation, a condom, and a so-called “kill room” à la American television series Dexter.

Leaning against the draped walls are eleven aluminum panels covered with a fluid acrylic polymer tinted in skin tones of beige, orange, red, brown, and pink. The texture of the surfaces varies between thick coats of brutal drippings to large strokes spanning the range of the artist’s outstretched hands. In some of the paintings, the aluminum base is almost completely visible, while others are totally covered in both material and color. Strewn with wild sprays and streaks, these images are aggressive and sexy, and they reference—in form, if not in color—cum shots, blood splatters, and all-around bodily excrement. Similar markings appear on the plastic covering the wall and floor, suggesting that the works were made onsite, potentially on the very spot where they stand.

In keeping with Rosenkranz’s style, the panels are, once again, slightly larger than human proportions. Here, with the panels sitting directly on the floor, this approach has never been more effective, openly encompassing and confronting the viewer at the same time. While her earlier works had an easy immediacy—with striking and easily identifiable materials (spandex, space-age emergency blankets, glossy photographic paper) and color combinations—these images at first appear tame, representing some of her most subtle work to date.

Nevertheless, these paintings manage to be grounded and weighted in an atmospheric way. Gesture after gesture is piled up on their surfaces, some of them even acquiring an eerily human-like appearance as if scarred, living skin had been stretched large. To enhance this effect, Rosenkranz has placed two sets of projectors on the floor at either end of the gallery. One casts a blue light over the entire room, the other a dark pink. Reflecting off of the plastic onto the walls and into the paintings, these hues bring out the many layers and tones of each panel’s subtle coloration and composition. Under this haunting play of colored light, the images shift dramatically as one moves through the installation.

In 2012, Rosenkranz apparently used blood in “Inner Nature,” a series of flesh-colored paintings, which illustrate that it’s the subcutaneous fluid running through our veins that gives skin its color. (The artist intentionally left the authenticity of the medium unspecified.) In these new works, she exploits this idea further. The paintings appear to be both alive and dead: bloody gore and blood signifying life. At their most imposing and abstract moments, they are visceral; the medium comes up off their surfaces as if it were peeling away. At sparser moments, the panels look as if wrestling bodies had spread secretions and waste across them with their bare hands. Aptly titled Sexual Power (Viagra painting) 111 (all 2014), the works both name-check the infamous blood-flow-enhancing drug the artist took while creating them, and reaffirm the exhibition’s focus on carnal processes and bodily fluids.

Likewise, the exhibition’s title, “My Sexuality,” returns to Rosenkranz’s customary themes—especially the tendency within marketing to use universally applicable possessive pronouns—however, here the branding is entirely her own. The paintings and the installation encapsulate everything that has become important to her larger body of work, but had previously been executed as single layers in closed sets; these include the painterly gestures found in two series of works made on silver and gold emergency blankets—“Stretch Nothing” (2009) and “Express Nothing” (2011)—as well as the markings she made with a mixture of latex house paint and mass-market soft drinks in the series “Everything is Already Dead” (2012).

Yet, in the handling of paint and form, these earlier works now seem flat in comparison to her new work. If almost all of Rosenkranz’s earlier projects were about visible surfaces, this installation is entirely about depth, marking a definitive turn in her practice. “My Sexuality” thus demonstrates her ability to create her own provocative references with seemingly effortless skill. Handling the discrete materialities of skin, shit, semen, spit, and blood in the same non-hierarchical manner as the body, Rosenkranz generates dense and seductive paintings of basic human existence.

Painting, Sexuality & Eroticism

Mitchell Anderson is an artist currently living in Zürich, where he runs the art space Plymouth Rock.

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July 23, 2014

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