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February 6, 2015 – April 11, 2015
How do we begin to qualify and draw connections between artists and artworks dealing with or about “funniness” as subject matter, however individualized? Can artworks, as physical objects and documents, themselves be funny or alternatively cringe-worthy, rather than just about humor? Pratfall Tramps—featuring Tammy Rae Carland, Jamie Isenstein, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, and Mary Reid Kelley—investigates an artwork’s comedic desire. Each artist’s personal visual styles and narratives “tramp” comedic avenues as a means to explore their sculptures, videos, and photographs through deviations from “norms” (whether cultural, social, logical, or linguistic): A candle cannot evade its own snuffing.
The presented artistic contexts and conceptual positions in these four female artists’ practices include references to mainstream comedy’s systems and authors, and some are more explicitly gendered than others with literal and implied connections to the female body. Pratfalls—bodily or object-based—are funny because they are a paradox. While suggesting lack of control, there is indeed complete and conscious control at play: in comedy, the performer can rewire failure as success. The pratfall reveals an innate human truth, and comedy is exactly about incorporating such folly, or potential for failure, into our actions.
Born 1978, Evanston, IL
Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
Sara Greenberger Rafferty works in a range of media including sculpture and video, but is strongly influenced by photography. Rafferty is interested in the authorship of comedy through jokes and performers, re-appropriation and re-performances. Using theatrical elements like props, sets, and the stage, she creates work that revolves around practical jokes, gags, and the absurd. Several works from her solo exhibition BANANAS at The Kitchen in New York City [Jan 9—Mar 7, 2009] are on view here for the first time in several years, such as Panning (Done Eggs) (2009), Testing I-V (all 2009), and the eponymous work BANANAS (2009), a “life-sized” hangman sculpture created with microphone stand, boom arm, plexiglas, wire, and gaffer’s tape—an appropriately awkward comment on performance stage anxiety. In these earlier works, Rafferty became interested in producing comedic objects that could independently produce laughter, not merely objects that spoke about humor or illustrated a comic narrative. The comic content of these works is largely domestic through their relationships to food and kitchen implements, perhaps a comment on women’s place in a field dominated by men and the content women injected into it to stake an independent position. Her most recent work in the exhibition is Mono (2014), screened as part of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Rafferty cast New York-based actor Susie Sokol to mimic the physical gestures and verbal mannerisms of three late-night talk show hosts (Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Joan Rivers) through reduced aesthetic: the laugh track is raw, the set and studio audience empty. Through this isolating of the comics’ gestures, Sokol’s routine of gendered stances and comedic posturing becomes radically strange and unattached to any particular context.
Sara Greenberger Rafferty has exhibited solo projects at Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York, The Kitchen, New York, MoMA PS1, New York, Eli Marsh Gallery at Amherst College, Massachusetts, The Suburban, Illinois, and at kim? Centre for Contemporary Art in Riga, Latvia. She has participated in many group shows at venues such as the Aspen Art Museum, Colorado, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, Gagosian Gallery, New York, Public Art Fund at the Metrotech Center, New York, and The Jewish Museum, New York. Her work was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She received her MFA from Columbia University and lives and works in Brooklyn.
MARY REID KELLEY
Born 1979, Greenville, SC
Lives and works in Olivebridge, NY
Mary Reid Kelley’s oeuvre builds complex commentary on females in reimagined historical narratives through the production of highly stylized videos narrated with biting “verbally-inclined” rhyming tetrameter verse. With a heightened visual aesthetic, Reid Kelley engages in pretending through characterizations that are strategic and cunning, and the aesthetic effectively flattens three-dimensional space through conscious and physical rendering of human form. While the sharp imagery is seemingly all “black and white,” Reid Kelley’s world is anything but: although her stories are indeed meant to be humorous (while offering up difficult social context), she successfully muddies the line between comedic and tragic so seamlessly we are afraid to laugh outright. On view is Reid Kelley’s video Sadie the Saddest Sadist (2009), set during WWI and presents the story of Sadie, a self-proclaimed “modern girl” who yearns for, and later leaves, the factory floor for a sailor boy named Jack. The narrative weaves a complicated tale about female labor and the body, both exploited in the name of ideologies and all the while confused for sexual-liberations. Reid Kelley’s video not only presents humor through intelligent word play and entendres (“I know you care by these Marx on my Lenin”), the physical humor of language through written forms and complicated narratives—letters physically come alive to swirl, jump, and reform into new phrases and puns—but through self-reflexive references and jokes that only find completion through a full, stayed viewing.
Mary Reid Kelley completed her MFA at Yale University in 2009. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz (travelled), and forthcoming at UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus; Rose Art Museum, Brandies University; Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia: Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art, Karlsruhe, Germany; and the SITE Santa Fe Eighth International Biennial, Santa Fe. Reid Kelley was featured on the PBS documentary series Art21.She has received numerous awards for her work including the Joseph H. Hazen Rome Prize, the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, and an Alice Kimball English Travel Fellowship. Her work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Yale University Art Collection, The Zabludowicz Collection, London; The Goetz Collection, Munich; and the UBS Art Collection. Her work is represented by Fredericks & Freiser, New York; Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; and Pilar Corrias, London.
Born 1975, Portland, Oregon
Lives and works in New York City
Jamie Isenstein blurs distinctions between performance and sculpture, often through use of her own body as ready-made object in her “inhabited sculptures,” and thereby questions the notion of “live” in her work. Isenstein reflects on the concept of art living beyond its creator and the role of the artist’s hand, quite literally, within a work of art, most often utilizing the lexicon of comedy and magic as metaphors for larger contexts. As with Magic Lamp (2005), and Isenstein’s other inhabited sculptures, it is almost an absurd reversal where the artwork has co-opted the artist’s body, creating an anthropomorphized self-deprecated sculpture. While these sculptures rely on her body’s presence, Isenstein offers an equally compelling solution for when she is absent. In doing so, Isenstein’s performances never truly end but instead go into extended intermissions. This way, unlike most performance or endurance art that has a finite beginning and end, her performances become more like sculptures that last indefinitely. Isenstein’s art practice offers an uncanny dimension to seemingly inanimate objects: In Snuffer (2008), she heightens the duality of being live and inanimate at the same time. The photo depicts a candle evading its own mortality in a comic way. At times, Isenstein’s comedic narrative becomes so nuanced and personalized that she makes jokes about the forms, props, and manifestations that comedic intent may take. In her Untitled (2013) clown shoe series, for example (the clown shoe is already a joke—an oversized, physical prop worn by a performer) Isenstein extends, re-formulates, and finally curls the joke back onto itself. On view are three iterations from this series, increasing in scale from a one-panel to three-paneled clown shoe, a clown shoe to laugh at clown shoes.
Jamie Isenstein earned her BA from Reed College in Portland in 1998 and her MFA from Columbia University in 2004. Isenstein’s performances, installations, drawings, and sculptures have been the subject of solo exhibitions at Reed College, Portland, OR (2013); Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York (2010 and 2007); Hammer Projects at the Hammer Museum (2007); Meyer Riegger Galerie, Karlsruhe and Berlin, Germany (2006); and Guild and Greyshkul, New York (2004). Group exhibitions include those at Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Liverpool Biennial, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; and Museum Moderner Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. Reviews of Isenstein’s work have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Contemporary, Art in America, and Modern Painters. Isenstein is currently preparing work for her third solo exhibition at Andrew Kreps Gallery, in New York City for the spring of 2015.
Born 1965, Portland, Maine
Lives and works in Oakland, CA
Tammy Rae Carland’s work can be seen as a critique of mainstream comedy, its systems and authors, through a conceptual and lens-based artistic process. Carland’s recent photographs from the Live From Somewhere series explore notions of being “stood up” or the “stand-up” via the anthropomorphization of staged, documented objects. Carland not necessarily conflates, but rather sympathizes between the theatrical and the photographic, the pressures of performance, and the “enchantments of the live” as critiqued through the absence of the body, in particular the performing body. Carland’s single-channel video, Live From Somewhere (2013) presents the consciously awkward moment from Gilda Radner’s 1979 one-woman Broadway show titled Gilda Radner – Live From New York when a spotlight pans the theatre curtains, anticipating Radner’s stage appearance. This searching action is looped, in continuum, and becomes a stand-in for Radner, simultaneously symbolizing a performer’s reluctance and an audience’s expectations. Carland is interested in the history of female comics and through it provides a larger comment on gender roles including the fragmentation, abjection, and marginalization of the body and the legacy of feminism.