Nolan Hendrickson’s New New Face at Ramiken Crucible

by Whitney Kimball on February 22, 2012 Reviews

Install shot, Nolan Hendrickson, "New New Face" at Ramiken Crucible. (Photo courtesy Ramiken Crucible).

Tucked around the corner from a liquor store and a few blocks removed from the glossy Orchard Street storefronts, Ramiken Crucible automatically fosters the feeling of making a discovery. There's no sign on the door, or, at least, you don't notice it; the lights are off, and the floor is severely chipped and bare.

This could be why I don't mind the trendy appeal of New New Face. The tribal-patterned, 1980s-style dance wear, the wobbly cartoon characters, and the fun, commercial palette take all of the forms that are exciting about early modernism – Picasso, the Fauves, faces that recall African masks – and dress them up with classical symbolism, pop, and folk. Though the paint quality is loose and textures are swirly, the canvases underneath are as crusty as the gallery floor.  Clumps of figures march amongst vases, flowers, and column motifs, and their faces are interspersed with black Grecian profiles.

Apparently random references, though, work toward a common goal; Greek poses with layered styles and accessories (kneepads with columns on them, pom-pommed ankle socks, a giant Connect Four board, the Colosseum) make aesthetic movements feel like oppressive choreography. The dancers appear to react automatically to art historical structures, where there are no right moves — just ones that don't fit.

Nolan Hendrickson, "New New Face," 2012. acrylic on canvas 78 x 48 inches

Not fitting in seems to apply to a lot of Hendrickson's work.  His last show, “Faggot Carnival,” similarly poses clowns and creeps tentatively for an audience.  The dancers' poses are ecstatic, but their expressions are anxious, even a little humiliated. In the titular painting at Ramiken, New New Face, a man with a down-turned mouth is clutched by a muscular giant from behind; the man wears a bodysuit with an image of a Greek head crying, and his right eye droops sideways. His penis hangs out limply; the tension between the childish drawing and raging sexual undertones couldn't be clearer. Even more bizarrely, a wiggly pink ribbon runs through all of the paintings in the room, as though every one's crossing a finish line.

There is no press release for Nolan Hendrickson's paintings, and they don't need one.  It may sound like Greenbergian purism, but this sets them far apart from the hyper-rationalized shows in Chelsea and on the Lower East Side. The New Yorker wasn't being hyperbolic when it claimed that “The energy here is so infectious that one may be forgiven for wanting to cheer”; Hendrickson annihilates the monotonous etiquette that's become standard procedure around here. Without relying on excess anecdotes and material puns, the images create a logic which only images can.

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