Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pitts, Heller, Schwanse and Otte at the Front

When it comes to the unexpected, the Front has been on a hot streak of late, but probably no one could have anticipated anything quite as colorful Ves Pitts' Ghost Walk photographs unless, perhaps, you happen to be a transsexual performance artist. A native of Alabama, Pitts has spent two decades in New York documenting, as he puts it, “people who spend a lot of time on their appearance” even if they often look like escapees from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He also covers the scene in London, Cairo--and Miami where, he explains, “the 1970s suburban housewife look is all the rage.” But it's mostly a walk on the wild side of Manhattan's tranny demimonde where Pitts is part impresario and part anthropologist; he clearly loves his bizarre cast of characters and the feeling seems mutual, yielding images that mingle shock and empathy in a singular photographic balancing act.

Sally Heller has made a career as an installation artist out of no end of things cheap, glittery and disposable, and now she's turned her attention to female sexuality in collages of women constructed from an odd mix of calligraphy, press-type letters and glitter. Here her bawdy Lewdicrous babes, left, made up mostly of text, strut their stuff in a new twist on the word paintings of the postmodern past, creating an uneasy DMZ where Madonna's material girl coexists with feminist irony--as Nina Schwanse's uber-ironic Babe Rental videos, bottom, mingle feminine allure with hints of cash and carry convenience. In the back room, John Otte's Falling Beauty collage paintings, above, improbably reconcile the elegant modernism of the School of Paris with the bracing brashness of the East Village in the 1980s. Imagine Matisse as a punk rocker with graffiti paint and glitter and you get the general idea. All of which only reiterates the kaleidoscopic sense of shifting times, colors and cultures that pervades the gallery—with no shortage of bling! ~Bookhardt

Ghost Walk by Ves Pitts, Lewdicrous by Sally Heller and Nina Schwanse, Falling Beauty by John Otte, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 5, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980