November 14, 2020 – January 9, 2021
A visit to Mrs., run by the married couple Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere, is marked by deviation from the norm. The gallery is located on a non-descript block in Maspeth, Queens, which, despite its proximity to Ridgewood and East Williamsburg, is as untrendy as it sounds. (“They’re still somewhat questioning what we are and why we’re here,” Salamone told me when I asked her what the community makes of Mrs.’s artsy infiltration.) Mrs.’s artists are benefited by this featurelessness, though. One has to go out of one’s way—and off the path of the subway—to see the art, so whereas visiting the Lower East Side is complicated by the temptation to see more, arriving at Mrs. is an exercise in lingering and making more out of less.
Consequently, it is fitting that the gallery’s two, otherwise highly distinct, painting shows are unified in their status as departures for their artists. Both evince softenings, emotional simplifications of otherwise complex artistic projects. For Mark Mulroney, a 47-year-old painter, muralist, and sculptor known for his predilection towards lewd irreverence, this is manifest in a series of 13 modestly sized portraits that are as unusually tender as they are characteristically bold. For Soyeon Shin, who is seven years out of a sculpture MFA at Pratt, this means an auspicious relinquishing of one dimension in the interests of exploring the paradoxical depth of the canvas.
Mulroney’s painterly experience is obvious. His works are undoubtedly more sophisticated—technically I mean—than Shin’s and earn their place in Mrs.’s front gallery.
Painted in 2020 and collectively titled Untitled, the portraits depict individuals from the neck-up, each face expressing a degree of the despair that is endemic to our times. This despondency, which ranges from suggestive sadness to discomfiting distress, is articulated by Mulroney’s deft manipulation of reality in his deployment of both expressionistic and cubist techniques. In the best iteration of Untitled, the head of a man, turned slightly sideways, is angled upwards, his face alarmed, and his features replaced: a highlighter yellow nose in the shape of a Kazoo, gaping bumble-gum pink eyes with top lids dripping like melting wax.
A more classic Mulroney has the air of Peter Saul-like buffoonery: “lots of boobs and butts and penises,” in Salamone’s words. His three-dimensional works have included a retinue of naked women, faceless but for nipple-like protuberances where a nose might otherwise be. In the back corner of Mrs., a Spongebob-themed, pop-up-book-inspired sculpture hangs, all bits and bobs of sarcastic, male-coded fun. This is not to say that these works aren’t good but that the “Untitled” series is better in its excavation of human suffering. Unsurprising to me, at least, the paintings are both more evocative and more provocative in being more reserved.
Conversely, Shin, who is manifestly talented and bright, could stand to ramp things up. Her paintings tell surrealistic stories without carrying much surrealistic heft and are indicative of still unrealized potential, as if they’re studies for a louder, more captivating undertaking. In Atlantic Avenue (2020), the strongest of these works, an outsized houseplant has taken sudden flight from its roots, which are nestled into the backpack of an injured man. The cause of such upheaval, it seems, is a drip of yellow that partially bisects the composition, and which cascades from a diaphanously curtained window on the second floor of a neighboring building. A hand reaches out from this formal and existential limn, as if from another realm, and it is this world—not our tentatively disordered everyday one—that I felt myself yearning to see. Our current normal is, after all, past the point of disorder.
If painting is a beginning rather than a temporary diversion for Shin, it is welcome. There is room in her notably textureless compositions for some of the dimensionality that training in sculpture requires—to suggest the possibility of depth by way of illustration will not be enough. Should flatness evoked by an absence of brush stroke be fundamental to her project, however, something could be learned from an artist like Andrea Joyce Heimer, whose obsessive fractionalization makes for a compositional chaos that Shin’s paintings could afford.
I’ll offer the same wish for Mulroney’s succumbing to expression: I hope it’s a lasting feature, rather than a blip. In 2020 and its immediate aftermath, art that exercises the humane might be the most radical kind we’ve got.