When Bravo aired Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, the art world let out a collective groan. Criticism abounded, but we suspect the laments had less to do with critical upset and more reflect high-brow disdain for reality shows.
This reptilian brain kind of likes them, although Bravo’s particular concept did evoke nauseous images of sensationalism à la Damien Hirst and derivative Andy Warhol-esque silk screens. However, TV these days is often more daring than the mostly line-toeing film industry. Fittingly, so is the work of Work of Art’s runner-up, Peregrine Honig.
Two months after her defeat, Honig comes to Santa Fe with Loser, a collection of work both from and in response to her reality-show experience. The wry exhibition is divided into distinct halves: illustrations on paper and beeswax sculpture; snark and sweetness; excretions and undulations. The works on paper are both more rife and resplendent.
For example, Pukers is a mixed-media series in which ink-outlined boys and girls regurgitate a mix of what little boys and little girls are made of: jaundiced snips and snails and puppy-dog tails, but also sugar and spice and everything nice (glittery doilies and fine embroidery).
One piece, “Puke King,” shows a boy in a crown throwing up a mash of green, brown and yellow, as well as gold starbursts. “Swan Puke” demonstrates the nimbleness of vomit: It doesn’t just go down, but up and around to form the likeness of the titular bird. A woman in a diving-dove-patterned shirt regurgitates a melee of feathers and sorbet colors. All the figures’ distress is the familiar, gut-wrenching pain of young love lost.
The words “I love you” are scrawled sweetly on several of the works amid streams of bile, as the subjects literally spill their guts. They intermittently find impotent, lightly hewn purple-ink angels as companions, but we suspect the pukers would prefer the comfort of their estranged lovers.
Aesthetically similar, Anchor Babies is a series of ink-outlined white women, softened with pink and white gouache on their nipples, cheeks and prominently featured vaginas.
“Anchor Baby” shows a red-and-white cartoon anchor hanging from one woman’s crotch. In “Import/Foreign Birth,” a woman with a craned neck, like those in illustrated fashion catalogs, sports a “made in China” sticker on her pregnant belly. “Territory” finds a young woman with hippyish long brown hair knowingly biting her bottom lip. She sits with her knees touching, ankles apart and an American flag coming out from between her legs. In “Soap Opera Baby,” a dignified woman in pearls sits spread eagle as a baby-doll face peeks innocently out from her vagina.
The baby provides a unifying theme between the paper and beeswax portions of the show. In the center of the gallery, the sweet faces of the Beautiful Boys series play foil to all the sexuality and vomit. The replicated busts of doll-faced little boys might as well be bleating baby deer—cast in warm-colored beeswax, no less. Their calm faces are serene and they comfort delicate sensibilities after the salacious onslaught of the works on paper.
Even with the reprieve of the beeswax series, the works in Loser are obviously loaded, but they bear no grandstanding. Feminism, imperialism, immigration—there’s a lot being said, but there’s no shouting. The pieces are crinkled and tacked ephemerally to the wall. Their inconsequential placement shows that theirs are not extraordinary sentiments, but recognized ones that ought to share space in everyday life.
Loser could have been sensationalized, but the works are too light-hearted to be heavy-handed. They’re fun and open to whatever reality one chooses, even TV.