BY Daniel Birnbaum in Reviews | 01 SEP 96
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Issue 26

Maria Lindberg

BY Daniel Birnbaum in Reviews | 01 SEP 96

Looking at a painting by Maria Lindberg is often like peeking through a keyhole, watching fragments of some embarrassing scene going on behind the door. Afterwards you feel ashamed. Although you are not offered more than a few sparse details, it seems impossible to avoid an obscene interpretation of what you have just seen. Yes, that little girl whose body you just glimpsed was, in fact, doing unmentionable things with her skipping rope.

The titles are usually quite straightforward, but sometimes take on an absurd quality precisely through their dry matter-of-factness. Rod Stewart in my Head (all works 1995), for instance, depicts exactly what the title indicates, and Me as Jew is a sketchy self-portrait showing the artist wearing Hasidic ringlets. Often, the pieces with cute sounding titles and those representing young girls with pets and toys, turn out to be nasty fantasies that mix an innocent, childlike atmosphere with sex and violence. This woman sure has a dirty mind.

Most of Lindberg's paintings are made using the same technique: black cartoon-like figures against a shiny yellow background. This, her most recent show, contained such a comic strip painting: I'm Leaving. Here nothing is presented in a direct fashion - all you can see is the rough outline of the room and two bubbles containing the sentences 'I'm leaving', and 'But you just came'. Lindberg finds ambiguities (and sexual innuendo) in the most common of expressions.

The show is dominated not by the paintings, but by a large number of drawings hung in a rather chaotic way on the walls. Like the paintings, they often centre on linguistic puns and bizarre jokes. Sometimes they are violent illustrations of seemingly innocent forms of speech. The drawing Fem smutsiga små fingrar (Five Dirty Little Fingers), for instance, turns the title of an old Swedish popular song into a brutal mutilation scene: there are two hands, but only five dirty fingers, since the other five have been cut off in the most horrific fashion. Absurdly, this drawing made me burst out laughing.

Sometimes Lindberg's pieces are reminiscent of Sue Williams'; but her work is thankfully free of didactic moralising. Certainly, some of the pieces have a feminist edge, like the drawing Tell Him to Fetch His Own Damn Slippers, but, on a political level, her message is never quite clear. Her strength lies in an altogether different sphere: in an acute sense of linguistic and psychological ambiguity.

If there is a problem with this work, it lies in the wittiness of the whole endeavour. Some pieces really are one-liners - funny for a couple of seconds, but also rather empty. What saves her, however, is the fact that the puns don't seem to end. They keep coming, and they are all pretty good. She knows it too, anticipating our stupid giggles wit Ha, a drawing depicting cosmic laughter. Ultimately, a wall full of drawings by Lindberg is more rewarding than a wall full of drawings by, say, Raymond Pettibon. They are simply more fun.