Four years ago, the then 22-year-old unknown NYU undergraduate Alex McQuilkin caused a sensation—some called it a scandal—at the Armory Show with a videotape called Fucked. In this five-minute looping work McQuilkin’s face is close to the camera, bouncing all around; she’s naked, on all fours, seen from the front attempting to put on her makeup as a man apparently has sex with her from behind.
“Live Through This,” McQuilkin’s solo
debut, isn’t as blunt or emotionally bruising, but it shows an intriguing artist willing to work close to her secret narcissist-exhibitionist core. The show consists of two OK video works. The pretty good centerpiece is a large projection, Romeo & Juliet
(I Wanna Be Claire Danes), in which McQuilkin re-enacts the death scenes from Romeo and Juliet to the climactic strains of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. She goes from pensive to heartbroken to wrenching to dying. It’s melodrama, pathos, bathos, and irony—a girl in her bedroom but acting out classical tragedy. Flawed or not, it’s sort of a trip.
In Desperado, McQuilkin again takes emotions to extremes as she lip-synchs the Eagles’ Desperado while she weeps uncontrollably. McQuilkin is a willing-to-do-anything whatever-it-takes kind of artist. She keeps things simple. She also connects up to other lunatic edge-workers like Alex Bag, Kate Gilmore, Laurel Nakadate, Xavier Cha, Patti Chang, and Lara Martini, who, for her gripping Open Studios at SVA recently madly dressed and undressed behind a two-way mirror—it was like peering into the heart of a neutron bomb. McQuilkin’s flaky bravery, her insight and in-your-faceness suggest she’s an artist to reckon with. Let’s hope she doesn’t crack up first.