Galleries and museums have been flooded with mass-media images ever since pop art came of age in the 1960s with icons like Andy Warhol's silk-screened Marilyn, or Roy Lichtenstein's comic-strip paintings. In the 1980s, pop went conceptual, and the ensuing neo-pop idiom has played a major role in contemporary art ever since, as we saw in the 2001 New Orleans Museum of Art Triennial and the Contemporary Arts Center's Chelsea Rising. Though both shows have recently come down, neo-pop lives on in Slidell artist Blake Boyd's My Pinocchio Syndrome for Abigail at Simonne Stern.
And a curious show it is. Boyd's Pinocchio uses as its raison the 30-year-old artist's infatuation with a Lolita from up East. An "artist's statement" (oxymoronically penned by Warhol buff Debra Miller, not the artist) says that, like Pinocchio, Boyd "was transformed from wood (i.e. incapable of true, unconditional love) into a real human being, brought fully to life by his dream child." Huh? That faux-uplifting tone begs the question of just what Boyd was doing with his "dream child" Abigail, who was an underage 16-year-old when the liaison began. But that might have been the point.
It seems the trendy New York art milieu from which Boyd took his cues is just so cool that basic human concerns like love or spirituality are not admissible unless in some kinky, outre or verboten form. In the early 1990s, blue-chip neo-pop artist Jeff Koons set the tone with his self-documented liaison with Ciccolina, the Italian porn star who was briefly his wife (and conceptual project). Messing with a 16-year-old is more Southern, but no less outre, hence sufficiently verboten to pass muster with the Gotham art priests. Which hints at the real intrigue at work here: Boyd's courtship of New York's glamour-trash art elite.
It was Billy Name, Warhol's photographer-honcho of his Factory years, who introduced Boyd to Abigail. Among the other artfully dropped names is that of big-time body-fluids maestro Andres Serrano, who reportedly hung out with Boyd in Slidell, where they reportedly played with pistols and assailed shopping malls with antics involving blood and photo booths. The "artist's statement" reminds us that love letters were once written in blood as a sign of seriousness, but in this show Boyd's drawing -- allegedly in his own blood -- of a swooning Pinocchio and pixilated Alice (from the Disney Alice in Wonderland) just seems silly. In a neo-pop context, blood comes across as a stunt. But beyond that, the problem with blood is that it turns brown, cracks and smells as it ages, yet this stuff looks as fresh as a new transfusion. (I guess it must just be really well sealed, or something.)
But not all is rendered in blood. Portrait of Abigail in Mouse Ears is an overtly Warholian view of Boyd's love interest as a cute Mousketeer. Done in shades of colored clay that evoke Warhols silk screens, it is one of the rare memorable images. Death of a Poet, a large series of photo panels that occupy a wall of the gallery, is Boyd's magnum opus, and it might have been memorable were there any reason to remember it. Instead, it's a goofy liebenstod with little Abigail sitting inertly nude, wearing a long-nose, black leather mask with her mouse ears while Boyd, sporting a very long Pinocchio nose in stage make-up, sprawls lifelessly by her side, oozing blood from the corner of his mouth.
Details like Abigail's sharply masculine black mask cause Poet to read more like gay S&M than anything we might associate with good old American pedophilia. Since Pinocchio's nose was said to grow longer with every lie he told, we can only conclude that Death of a Poet is really a campy-vampy charade, a postmodern put-on more concerned with making a flashy statement than with having anything to say. Never mind love or redemption, this sort of thing reflects the more supercilious side of Warhol's legacy as typified by his vapid Studio 54/Interview magazine era of the 1970s and '80s. One of the truly epochal artists of the '60s, Warhol after 1970 became progressively more fatuous and tiresome, a self-caricature of a self-caricature. Sadly, many postmodern artists fail to note such distinctions when looking to the pale prince of pop for guidance, hence the egregious tedium of so much of their output. Ultimately, Boyd's Pinocchio is an admirably spirited and flamboyant approach to more of the same.