Emotional Gooeyness and A Little SNARK

“Mommy” at Monya Rowe Gallery


When I opened my email this morning I got notification that the current show, Mommy, featuring the works of Polina Barskaya, Larissa Bates, Louis Fratino, Sarah Alice Moran, Louise Sheldon, Cynthia Talmadge, and Caleb Yono; at Monya Rowe Gallery in St. Augustine is only up for one more week.


This show is, simply put, very compelling. Like the best poetry or story-telling, the various iterations that stem from the springboard word “Mommy,” range from the deeply personal (with a little snark), to caustically nightmarish and outsized. Of the seven artists in the show, there are two whose works exist in a kind of emotional high relief: Caleb Yono and Cynthia Talmadge.

Caleb Yono’s photograph Untitled Illusion (2017) is like a dark-mirror snap of a barely remembered Joan Crawford portrait. In its unsettling “head-shot” style presentation, Yono’s face has been painted a yellow-tinted white, eyes outlined in yellow-haloed murple, with outsized lips painted a glossy black. It reads as Fauve, but also as ’90s-era Limelight club-kid where gendered presentation is fluid and therefor capable of destabilizing an overarching heteronormative societal narrative.

In many ways, if Yono’s work is the promise of club kids realized—brilliance and fearlessness and wit—as filtered through a sophisticated engagement with ancient myth and fashion tropes, it is too a way of being in the world that champions the power (creative and destructive) of WASP-y ideas of beauty. This is especially present in an installation of his drawings. These 22 small images project the dreaminess of Chagall, the fashionable emotional gooeyness of Elizabeth Peyton married to Schiele drawings, all bound to horror/delight at the act of transformation.

Cynthia Talmadge has two pieces in Mommy, a painting and a small installation. The painting, Mild Nausea (2015) rendered in a pointillist style and depicting decorative sections of grapefruit, medicine bottles and a box of La Mer skin cream (2 ounces for $310.00, retail) in pale pastel hues is a wry commentary, by way of vanitas on the essential dullness of a life highly regimented around unachievable goals of perfection. Looking at it, the ramblings of Warhol cohort, Brigid Berlin leap to mind. But it is the installation work, Alma Mater (2017) that has deeper resonance. Perhaps it is emotional projection, but the sweatshirt—adorned with varsity-style letters spelling out McLean, Harvard’s famous psyche facility—and a single silk flower, arranged in a manner recalling the trophy cabinet at a private high school, gazed at through a brown-tinted vitrine, and situated in a show entitled Mommy that heightens the silent scream pathos of the scene. Something deeply private and shameful (though very common) brought into the light, in a manner that deftly avoids the “redemption” aspect of recovery narratives; instead, it is so funny and so sharply painful.

Monya Rowe consistently mounts some of the most thoughtful shows in Northeast Florida in her gallery space. Generally speaking, the works on display are smaller in scale, but no less impactful for that. Indeed, each time I make a visit to the gallery I am viscerally reminded of the importance of cohesive ideas and imagery. Though this show closes soon, it is well worth an afternoon spent in St. Augustine.

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