David Kramer at Feigen Gallery

David Kramer, Untitled (Stop Me)David Kramer, Untitled (Stop Me) (2007), ink on paper, 11″ x 9.2″; courtesy Feigen Gallery

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There’s not much to say about the art of David Kramer, the subject of an exhibition at the Feigen Gallery in Chelsea, that he hasn’t said himself. As with any artist damaged by the strident literalism that is the legacy of Conceptual Art, Mr. Kramer depends on words to get the point of the work across. The images seen in the paintings and drawings are cribbed from mass-media sources—renderings based on advertisements or snippets of collage—yet they serve only as addenda to the artist’s sad-sack shtick.

Combining the comic desperation of Rodney Dangerfield with the Pop ennui of Richard Prince, Mr. Kramer trades in irony-laden maxims and sardonic, typewritten rambles. His subjects are alcohol, sex, success and the artist’s life. “I prefer not to drink alone … even when I am by myself.” “I don’t want to hear any of that ‘plenty of fish in the sea’ bullshit . . . unless I’m the one doing the fishing.” “I still have an incredibly romantic view of being an artist … but I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.” That last mot offers, as its rim shot, a slack pencil drawing after a Van Gogh self-portrait.

There are few things as insufferable as an artist’s griping about his lot in life. Every artist is an underappreciated genius struggling to get by. Many have second thoughts about dedicating their life to art and, not coincidentally, drink more than they should. So what else is new? Mr. Kramer thinks that by redeeming his cynicism with a frank and funny self-awareness, he can one-up the competition.

But the one-liners are barely amusing—forget profound, they’re chiefly self-important. Mr. Kramer’s disappointment only feeds his narcissism. He knows that art is a sham and beauty is suspect. He knows there’s nothing worth believing in, so why bother? Anyone who thinks otherwise is flagged as a putz and summarily dismissed. Despite his grumbled protestations, Mr. Kramer is pleased to be smarter than the rest of us. If your idea of a good time is getting played for a sucker, then this is your can of beer.

© 2006 Mario Naves

Originally published in the January 29, 2006 edition of The New York Observer.


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