BY James Scarborough in Reviews | 05 MAY 99
Featured in
Issue 46

Karen Finley

BY James Scarborough in Reviews | 05 MAY 99

Karen Finley's exhibition of drawings, 'Pooh, Unplugged, a Parody' attempts to lampoon the antics of Christopher Robin, his chum Pooh and the other characters in A. A. Milne's stories, by grafting a list of obvious (and trendy) ills onto their innocent life in the in the forest. The first drawing in the show introduces the characters and their underlying psychiatric malaises: Pooh, with his propensity for 'hunny' predictably has an eating disorder; Christopher Robin (surprise!) is an 'enabler'; Eyeore is depressed; Owl has delusions of grandeur. In one image, Finley shows the inhabitants of the forest pulling Pooh out of a rabbit hole: Christopher Robin tells Rabbit, who is pulling behind him, to stop rubbing his erection against his leg. In another sequence, the characters sign a contract with Disney; they speak with Michael Eisner on a cell phone; they want Frank Gehry to design their house, they promise in vain not to sell out. The show is littered with images of the once-bucolic characters contending with slapstick boners, bestiality, and shameless self-promotion.

The rooms in which the show is hung are painted in bright, children's-nursery yellow. Finley presents the images in sequence, hanging in a line that implies a story. Each drawing, simply framed in wood, echo the scenes and predicaments in A.A Milne's books. But the seeming dumbing down implied by this childlike presentation, and by the two stickers affixed to the invitation - 'Caution, animals with boners' and 'No children or stupid adults permitted' - belies its actual aspirations as a show for sophisticates.

Admittedly, the exhibition has a certain charm, especially if one was weaned on the work of Milne. There is also a (probably unintentional) correlation between the dark side of the forest and the memoir written a few decades ago by the original Christopher Robin, Milne's son, who described his lifelong difficulty in shaking off the image of a child dragging a teddy bear up the stairs. The show professes to be a parody and in order to be a successful one, it would need to have shock value. But on a social level, everyone has heard of someone on Prozac or Ritalin; knows someone who marshals phoney disgust at child pornography on the Web; who has either sold out, or intends to sell out. Parody cannot work in a climate where conventional wisdom is dictated by the likes of The National Enquirer or the slapstick morality of talk-show hosts cashing in on presidential imbroglios.

The real merit of this show is to demonstrate how predictably banal conceptual critiques have become in a world of simulacrum and relativity, where one can strike any pose and maintain it in the name of significant cultural commentary.