Contemporary Desire: Puppies and Flowers at the Royal Society of American Art

by contributor Daniel Morowitz

 

Beauty and companionship are two simple human yearnings that have served as remedies for loneliness for as long as desire itself has existed. While we look for these qualities in lovers and partners, by proxy, people have filled the void through various means. In the history of art, symbolism is used to represent this proxy, and code the human experience through representation with a rich language or symbols. Classically dogs have been a stand in for fidelity, loyal companionship with an unbroken bond; flowers, beauty, being both the feminine lure and stand in for sexual organs and desire. Puppies and Flowers, curated by Katie Hector and on view at The Royal Society of American Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn until March 31st, takes this classical iconography and filters it through a contemporary lens. 

Dominique Fung, My Dog is Anemic, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches, 2017. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

With social media and a pluralized consciousness mediated by omnipotent digital awareness, symbols take on renewed, potent meaning; no longer just allegorical, painting can historicize life even as we live it. With this vision in mind, Puppies and Flowers creates a world of desire, recognizable by the trappings of modern impulses, while remaining an approximation of genuine connection. Walking into The Royal Society of American Art, dogs immediately greet you in the form of Dominique Fung’s “My Dog is Anemic” and Mark Zubrovich’s “Stick it Out and Touch Your Cleats”. The playful balance of these two works in dialogue is immediately reciprocal, with an emphasis on the blue hues (in Fung’s painting) and red tones (in Zubrovich’s work). The duality is established, mirroring fire and water, hot and cold. Fung’s dogs lick a centrally-placed vase, while Zubrovich’s anthropomorphized baseball player bends down to present his tail to the viewer. These works together can seem to point toward a sexual act, although this connection would not be made independently. The connection forms a compelling narrative which ties the viewer to the scene, making imagination complicit in the construction of the fantasy.

Mark Zubrovich, Stick It Out and Touch Your Cleats, acrylic on canvas, 26 x 31 inches, 2018. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

Jenn Dierdorf’s paintings of flowers in vases inhabit the traditional art history canon of Nature Morte, flanking the canine imagery of Fung and Zubrovick. Unlike the dogs, Dierdorf’s flowers are fleeting wisps, with one painting rendered in tones of black and white, while the other painting is comprised of vivid tones. The colorful image, Night Creeps, grows out of black, ordure masses, as if they are the remains of rotten black flowers which nourish new growth.

Jenn Dierdorf, Night Creeps, acrylic and ink on canvas, 25 x 21 inches, 2018. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

Night and day present very different worlds, and allude to the transitory nature of time. Night will always give over to day, day to night, flowers even give way to seasons and a bloom in May differs from one in October: referenced by the title of one of the Deirdorf’s larger work on paper.

Katarina Janeckova, Bad Ass Roxx (Roxanne Edwards), 20 x 16 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2016. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

The back wall is the most direct play on the theme, arching around to the wall on the right. A bouquet of paintings presents flowers first, playing on a real life application. Figuration becomes mixed in through the painting of a body holding a blue vase, where Katarina Janeckova codes a black body holding an image of a white figure as a modern day Olympia. Here she is presenting a white body, but handing the authority to the black figure, flipping the narrative and upending the classical power dynamic. 

This representation stands in stark contrast to the historic lithograph-style drawing to its right, where Delphine Hennelly’s women sit indifferently. Even the dog presents their back, affronting traditional fidelity that ties women to the male gaze, allowing these figures to take agency and not perform classical representational motifs.

Delphine Hennelly, Untitled II, gouache and pastel on paper, 14 x 12 inches, 2017.

Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

Rounding out this wall are two paintings on panel by Aliza Morell roses rendered as if presented in neon, and two impressionist inspired still-lifes: one by Delphine Hennelly and one by Jenn Dierdorf, creating a clash between classical representation and the garden of our modern world.

To end the narrative juxtaposition the largest painting, directly across from this “flower wall” on the left side of the gallery, by Janeckova, features a woman reclining on a couch with a dog at her feet. Orbs float above her head, reverberating like memory orbs, while round flower paintings by Tess Michalik are featured to the right, and to the left more of Zubrovich’s baseball playing dogs.

 

Tess Michalik, Louis Francois, oil on canvas, 20 x 20 inches, 2019. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

This wall exists as a place of fantasy and directly makes reference to the constant reconstruction of our engagement with the established motifs present through the gallery. A sleeping figure infinitely dreams, rearranging all the tools and symbols around the gallery. I like to believe the sleeping figure is the stand in for the viewer. Surrounded by dogs and flowers, she is the exhibition, a symbolic dreaming of how the adjacent symbolism can dictate her next move when she wakes; and like the viewer, how will she change her world when she exits the room with this information.

Puppies and Flowers is on view at The Royal Society of American Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn until March 31st, 2019.

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