ARTFORUM, critic’s picks

Author: Sharon Mizota

11.15.08-12.20.08 Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Kathleen Henderson’s exhibition of drawings and sculptures, titled “I Shew You a Mystery,” evokes the peculiarly American concoction of hope and fear, faith and desperation, that filled many nineteenth-century Christian revivalist meetings. Yet her spare, casual oil-stick drawings and lumpy, scatological sculptures are resolutely of the present, depicting a world still uncomfortable with itself: bellicose, juvenile, a bit confused, and often touchingly vulnerable. The drawings depict hooded figures (usually men) and cheeky satyrs in scenarios that are alternately ominous, tender, and darkly humorous. A man aims a rifle in front of a wooden shack; another is chained spread-eagle to a wheel. Other figures pray, hold hands, or waltz together awkwardly, and in one of the more bizarre examples, a dark-haired man helps a skinny hooded figure to direct his penis, which snakes out of his shorts like an umbilical cord, to the toilet. This mix of menace, comedy, and pathos is reminiscent of Philip Guston’s Klan paintings, but Henderson’s work is perhaps closer to the arch comic-book style of Raymond Pettibon, who shares her black sense of humor and eclectic, often outré subject matter.

Speaking of which, penises—both literal and symbolic—crop up throughout the show, signaling an irreverent fascination with the myths and pratfalls of manhood. This impression is reinforced by images of Pan, the horned Greek god, considered both a symbol of virility and a model for depictions of Satan. One paper-pulp-and-tar sculpture depicts Pan with a drooping phallus that isn’t nearly as long as his curling, rigid beard. This displacement of male potency undergirds the entire exhibition, revealing the misdirected masculinity at the heart of these chaotic, anxious times. The drawing Untitled (taping man), 2008, is a frighteningly succinct example: Two figures fasten a third to a board with strips of tape and hang him upside down. It’s a scene straight out of Jackass or, perhaps, Guantánamo Bay.