Time Out New York / Nov 13–19, 2008

Zak Smith

David Foster Wallace Is Dead and Sarah Palin Is Alive. It Can Be Hard to Describe an Abstract Painting So Your Lazier Critics Pretend They Don’t Exist. You Really Should Shut Up Because No One Gives a Fuck: Zak Smith certainly has a knack for needling titles. This mix of topical snark and scattershot enmity, however, does underline an ongoing irritation with his punk styling. Smith’s antagonistic pose ultimately renders his desire to be liked more transparent. It’s a distinctly adolescent bind that ends up—countercultural and literary allusions notwithstanding—making for rather conservative work.

Smith’s latest show is a hodgepodge of recent paintings, drawings and collages that includes a clutch of neopsychedelic doodles and Drawings Made Around the Time I Became a Porn Star. The last treads a familiar path: A wall full of small, unframed sheets busy with dense cartooning, it blends skillfully stylized figuration with a predilection for decorative pattern that harks back to Abstract Expressionism and even Art Nouveau.

Smith has talent to burn, his graphic skill marking him out as the leader of a certain pack (see the accompanying show of recent collaborations with the likes of Shawn Cheng and Nicholas Di Genova). But his only satisfying project to date, an exhaustive visual interpretation of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow that appeared in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, looks increasingly like a conceptual one-off in which the desire to impress is fortuitously appropriate to the job at hand. On the evidence of this exhibit, Smith remains primarily a brilliant illustrator.

Image: Zak Smith, Girls in the Naked Girl Business: Nadia Nitro, 2008