Friday, July 10–Sunday, October 4, 2009
.. . . arguing, begging, belching, biting, bragging, cheating, complaining, cursing, drinking, farting, fighting, gambling, gossiping, hating, hitting, hoarding, indulging, interrupting, littering, loitering, lying, mocking, overspending, smoking, speeding, spitting, stealing, vandalizing, whining, yelling . . .1
And so begins an infinite list of the bad habits humans enact on a daily basis, behaviors that society deems unseemly and uncouth, unnatural and unacceptable, or abnormal and unattractive. In some cases, bad habits are excesses of peculiarity and misbehavior with truly negative ramifications. In other cases, they are simply behavioral activities outside of accepted mannerisms and traditional norms. One need only look at other cultures to see that one society’s poor manners can be another’s good graces.
A meditation on vice and naughtiness in contemporary art, Bad Habits presents a selection of the more subversive objects in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection. Taking its name from a suite of prints by the artist Lisa Yuskavage, the exhibition highlights an important strain of contemporary art focusing on compulsion, perversion, eroticism, anger, greed, trickery, and other vices associated with the underbelly of human existence. Such tantalizing subject matter has been fodder for art through the ages, but in the context of contemporary art, its deviant art-historical roots burst through the soil in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles when artists such as Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Lari Pittman, and Charles Ray created scatological, messy, politically incorrect art exploring violence, sexuality, politics, and perversion. This movement inspired the playful and loose thematic grouping of works seen here, in homage to its originators and their bastard children, as well as a myriad of more subtle interpretations of the exhibition’s theme. Bad Habits includes works by artists in a range of media, including, in addition to Yuskavage, Janine Antoni, Matthew Barney, Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Brinker, Cecily Brown, Robert Colescott, Gregory Crewdson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Jeanne Dunning, Gilbert & George, David Hammons, Nikki S. Lee, Glenn Ligon, Robert Melee, Cathy de Monchaux, Shirin Neshat, Tony Oursler, Jason Rhoades, Thomas Ruff, Kiki Seror, Jeff Wall, and Andro Wekua.
Bad Habits invokes a motley selection of the more deliciously naughty art in the Gallery’s collection. In memoriam, perhaps it’s appropriate to quote John Updike, whose character Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom metaphorically epitomizes the unkind yet strangely free habits of human nature in his inability to deal with his wife and son and his impulsive need to run from responsibility without explanation. Updike writes, as his character pounds the earth through a forest to nowhere, “Such an unnatural darkness, clogged with spider-fine twigs that finger his face incessantly, a darkness in defiance of the broad daylight whose sky leaps in jagged patches from treetop to treetop above him like a blue monkey.”2 This exhibition represents a good-natured defiance of pleasant manners, respectable morals, and happy thoughts, and a celebration, if you will, of the Rabbits of the world.
This exhibition is organized by Curator Heather Pesanti.
1 These verbs were culled from self-help research websites on “How to get rid of bad habits.”
2 John Updike, Rabbit, Run (Greenwich: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1960): 246.