Dutch painter-filmmaker Erik van Lieshout spins his art out of being a terrible cultural ambassador for Europe. He plays with the image of the decadent, tortured, self-serious artist baring his soul through his work—think Georg Baselitz, Arnulf Rainer, the Viennese actionists—updating the persona with a predilection for video confessionals and homemade pornography.
The centerpiece of “Sex Is Sentimental” at Maccarone, his first solo show in the U.S., is a 21-minute film that opens with the rumpled, bespectacled artist in his underwear, whining about how screwing his assistant, Suzanne Weenick, interferes with his art. As time goes on, you realize that this monologue serves as a kind of sly, self-referential joke—the “art” you are watching is a kind of freewheeling montage about this very sexual and artistic ambivalence.
In what follows, we observe the artist strain to do yoga; sing along badly to Simon & Garfunkel; say cruddy, insensitive things about Weenick (whom we see only in photos, often unflattering ones); paint and then aggressively paint over images of her face; and muse about how he prefers Velázquez to sex. He intersperses his ramblings with childish animated collages, combining Weenick’s visage with clippings from skin mags, throwing in a few lewd animations of Sarah Palin and Nicolas Sarkozy while he’s at it. (The paintings and collages from the film are displayed in a separate room.)
It all has the raw feeling of listening in on someone’s therapy. At the same time, it’s also a total put-on, with Van Lieshout gleefully acting the part of a braying Euro-trash artiste. Satirical self-scrutiny also indicates a kind of self-loathing, and the film reads as a tragicomic farewell to the idea of the Artist and his Muse—a grim, nihilistic goof on the artistic challenge of saying something intimate in an age of reality TV.