Review

Puppies and Flowers at the Royal: A New Artist-Run Space Explores Lustful Luxury and Mutating Community in Williamsburg

By Kristen Racaniello

 Puppies, Flowers, and Royalty. An exhibition in Williamsburg presents an ironic pseudo-salon, a flirtation with the historic Academie des Beaux-Arts, investigating the subsidiary subject matter associated with high-class leisure, surplus, and canonical art institutions. Historically marginal, decorative motifs are foregrounded in Puppies and Flowers; a transparently titled exhibition featuring paintings of floral vegetation and small, domesticated beasts.

 Puppies and Flowers is curated by artist and writer Katie Hector and features the work of Jenn Dierdorf, Dominique Fung, Delphine Hennelly, Katarina Janeckova, Tess Michalik, Aliza Morell, and Mark Zubrovich; a group of extraordinarily talented, energetic, and (mostly) Brooklyn based artists. The show runs from March 5th ­to March 31st, 2019.

This is an exhibition curated for artists, by an artist, in an artist run first-floor space. Self-aware satire, irony, awkward loves and slyly erotic forms characterize this show, but ultimately Puppies and Flowers deserves critical acclaim for its outpouring of community support and love. The Royal joins the fluxus of artist spaces in New York; its opening is a reminder that there is a continually vibrant artist underground even in the twilight of one of Williamsburgs oldest and most prolific artist-run spaces-- Sideshow Gallery, run by Richie Timperio until his unexpected death last fall.  That venue closed just last week (on March 21, 2019) joining the graveyard of countless other spaces that have closed for good in the neighborhood. With this inaugural exhibition, the Royal provides much needed new room for artists outside of the commercial gallery realm.

An exterior view of Sideshow Gallery in 2015. The space opened in the ‘90s and closed its doors in March of 2019, following the death of its vibrant owner and founder, Richard Timperio.

 The changing social organization of art patrons and institutions has necessitated artist-run spaces; Katie Hector chose to address this shift with Puppies and Flowers which playfully articulates the collapsing myth of the pipeline academy and confronts the mutating history of social interaction in the arts.

Puppies and Flowers does not look like a museum show or a group of paintings you might find in an established commercial gallery. Sensuously rubbing shoulders in subject, form, and medium, these paintings are divided; there is no one single aesthetic among the seven artists featured. Why should there be? This is an investigation of relationships: between artists, institutions, historical exhibitions and educations. Every artist and work is included because they contribute additional material to the dialogue around lust, leisure, class, craft and the decorative.

Installation view of Puppies and Flowers. From left to right: Jenn Dierdorf, October, 2016

Dominique Fung, My Dog is Anemic, 2017, Mark Zubrovich, Stick It Out and Touch Your Cleats, 2018, and Jenn Dierdorf Night Creeps, 2018.

Puppies and Flowers brings together seven talented artists and unites them through their shared subject matter, generating unexpected visual relationships. Concisely demonstrating this is a group of paintings strategically positioned to catch the eyes of unaware passerby’s through the Royal's enormous first floor window. Viewers are confronted by two central, sensual puppy paintings by Dominique Fung and Mark Zubrovich, enclosed on either side by Jenn Dierdorf’s flower paintings.

Top: Delphine Hennelly, Untitled III, 2017. Bottom: Mark Zubrovich, Stick Lick, 2018 and New Bat, 2018.

Fung and Zubrovich are perhaps closest in form out of the seven artists, but Fung’s sleek surfaces  and hard edges are still miles away from the partially post-digital, crayon fuzz of Zubrovich’s anthro-pups.  Together they form two shocking presentations of animal-human sexuality, pushing viewers to question the boundary between historically superfluous luxury goods that have lived at the margins of painting (the dog grasped in a patrons lap, or the supporting vase of a still life, for example) and the further conflation of material goods and status symbols with sexual desire.  Puppies and Flowers questions the fetish-like position of painting as an economic status symbol and further opens a dialogue around capitalism, art, power, and sex. 

The objects depicted have historically signified social class, wealth and power. In the microcosmic art ecology of the historically scrappy Williamsburg gallery scene, an exhibition that directly confronts painting’s place as a signifier of economic power is almost unimaginable.  Yet that is precisely what Puppies and Flowers does.  Playfully choosing the marginal imagery of historical painting, and displaying it within an artist-run space that is both in the margins of the commercial market, and at the center of a now historic artist district, Katie Hector has curated a thrilling new show that begins to unravel the complex network linking artist-run spaces to the larger constellation of galleries and institutions.