D.C. painter Cory Oberndorfer is the local art world’s Katy Perry: His work is pure pop, and he almost never fails to find a hit with D.C. audiences. An artist who is consistent sometimes to the point of monotony, Oberndorfer’s latest show is a surprise—-and not in the best of senses. “Pop: Sucker,” a new series on view with works by artist Decoy at Adams Morgan’s new quasi-gallery space Hierarchy, needed more time in the studio before it was ready for general release.
The format is nothing new for Oberndorfer: The paintings in this show take the form of lollipops, a motif that he has frequently explored. (Other favorite motifs are roller girls and popsicles. In fact, his works look as if they could all be drawn from the Will Cotton-assisted video for Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”) These suckers, though, come off the sticks, and off the canvas. They appear as cracked roundels mounted on the walls.
And they might be successful installations, too, playing up a tension between splintered-wood sculpture and slick acrylic painting. But instead, the paintings’ installations look half-formed: Some of the paint is chipped and peeling along the cracks of the wood lollipop. It’s missing a layer (several layers) of polish that would have made it look appetizing or seductive, the way giant pieces of candy should look.
I worry this could be a problem for Hierarchy, which is less an art gallery than a fixed tent for pop-ups. DIY spaces, to be sure, are immune to criticisms about finish and execution. Anything goes when it comes to punk shows. But Hierarchy, a 50/50 venture supported by local event impresarios No Kings Collective and the owners of the French bistro Napoleon, is not do-it-yourself. Instead it’s the increasingly relevant do-it-like-a-corporate-brand model. And since brands are about as punk as Ronald Reagan, shouldn’t this model be held to for-profit standards?
To that end, the lighting is too harsh for paintings by Decoy, the artist who shares the large basement-level space with Oberndorfer in Hierarchy’s inaugural (do we call it an exhibition?). Among Decoy’s super-flat paintings, I admired “MRI,” a painting depicting a figure in a hospital gown that focused on the gown’s candylike pattern. The rest of the paintings, depicting kid stuff around the city, lack savvy detail. (One missed opportunity to play with texture: a girl’s shredded tights, which Decoy paints too plainly.) I suspect the bigger draw was the merch table, but I found it mostly empty on a Sunday morning.
Hierarchy is a space for Friday and Saturday nights—-for at least for the next three months. (No Kings Collective co-founder Peter Chang says Hierarchy could solidify as a permanent endeavor, but the current runway leads through spring.) Though there are events planned for many weeknights, too. Some of Chang’s plans for the space sound electrifying. There are virtually no spaces in D.C. to see the work of local interior designers, but a pop-up event at Hierarchy this spring will change that, Chang says. Some events will be programmed by Napoleon. Others, like a pop-up by Vans, sound hum-drum. (None of these is fixed on the calendar yet.)
No question, Hierarchy is space that the city needs: With commercial galleries moving toward models that don’t necessarily mean showing work to D.C. viewers, spots like the Dunes or Veracruz or Hierarchy—-venues willing to commit to showcasing work on at least a semiregular basis—-fill a need. But as much as D.C. needs spaces for shows, it needs strong shows more. In its first outing, and like many shows put on by perma–pop-ups, this one misses the mark.
The show is on view to March 3.
Photo by Miguel Martinez