The New York artist Cheryl Donegan exhibits pacesetting works at the New Museum spanning twenty-three years.
By Andrea K. Scott, via newyorker.com
In 1993, Cheryl Donegan staged a riot-grrrl update of Yves Klein’s “Anthropometries.” In the French artist’s indelible 1960 hybrids of performance and painting, he directed nude women, slathered in blue, to act as surrogate brushes. Donegan directed herself; D.I.Y. is one of her trademarks. In the resulting video, we see the artist (in biker boots and her underwear) empty a can of green paint onto the floor, dip her derrière in the puddle, and leave imprints of it on a sheet of paper. When she adds a brushstroke—a stem—the image turns into a shamrock. A man walks into the frame and pours Donegan a pint of Guinness. As she lampoons a modern master, not to mention the long-standing cliché that painting is a drinking-man’s club, Donegan also mocks the early-nineties obsession with sanctimonious identity politics. Her identity: a body-conscious Irish-American. The piece is hilarious but also in conflict, at once feminist and politically incorrect.
A scant five minutes long, “Kiss My Royal Irish Ass (K.M.R.I.A.)” is now playing on the fifth floor of the New Museum, one of the earliest works in “Cheryl Donegan: Scenes and Commercials,” an overdue, if overstuffed two-room exhibition, curated by the brilliant Johanna Burton, with Sara O’Keeffe and Alicia Ritson. For more than twenty years, Donegan’s under-the-radar career has been hard to pin down but easy to pigeonhole (video artist), due to the sudden success of a few early tapes. Those works have been so widely circulated by hive-minded curators that they’ve left the mistaken impression of a one-trick pony. But, as this show makes clear, Donegan has been relentless over the years in her search for new approaches and materials, often staying one step ahead of the future. (In their humor, brevity, and camera-ready performances, for instance, her tapes anticipate YouTube.)
The main room of the show is a compressed career survey of videos (nine) and paintings (forty). Very few of the latter make a stand-alone impact; one exception is a red-and-white spray-painted canvas whose rippling vertical image evokes both the stability of a postmodern building and the accident of a slipped gingham napkin. Donegan’s willingness to experiment is never in doubt, from an absurd little painting of Karl Marx on a handprint turkey to a group of abject abstractions involving glitter and metallic tape (among other things) on cardboard. It’s the interdependence of her two-dimensional works that exhilarates here. Well before the current vogue for network-related concepts began to dominate conversations about painting, Donegan was practicing what was about to be preached, treating her work as one interrelated system.
In an adjacent room, there’s an installation of Donegan’s recent digital projects, mostly forays into fashion. In a corner with a rack of clothing purchased online, bar-coded tags, and a scanner, it’s tempting to identify a new tendency: Cheryl Donegan as a post-eBay artist.