MORNINGHEAD
October 16 - November 22, 2008
33 Bond Gallery
New York, New York

Laura Greengold paints the elusive welter between waking and dreaming, a place that captures what Kafka called "a view of life in which life would both retain its ponderous rise and fall, but at the same time, be perceived as a nothingness, a dream, a hovering in the air." Here, a man operates on a prone woman's midsection, but instead of the usual stitching thread, he uses ribbons; a young woman's legs begin to grow fur; disembodied hands cut salmon for sushi. We do not know who these characters are, nor the specific narratives that are unfolding, but the tension between what we recognize in this world and what we do not constitutes the paintings' hold on our imaginations.

Like the work of Neo Rauch, the larger paintings in this exhibition use both the logic of perspective and the rules of collage to achieve their mood of uneasiness. While some objects are depicted as occupying a three-dimensional space, others appear purposefully flat and two-dimensional, like magazine cut-outs. Greengold makes these decisions intuitively, and in other places, she chooses to leave certain objects and figures completely unfinished, as mere outlines. The effect is surreal, for sure, but the dream world that results is still intimately tethered to its real counterpart. To wit, many of the works in this show reference either well-known contemporary sociopolitical conflict or historical traumas: the Middle Eastern conflict, Abu Ghraib, and the Holocaust are some that come more immediately to mind. With each of these references, however, the artist intends to be vague. For instance, in the portrait "Hiding Matthew," the young male figure who crouches, apparently naked and traumatized, in a corner, could as easily be a prisoner of Abu Ghraib as he could be one of Auschwitz. Over him, there's a splash of white and blue (semen, water?), whose nonspecificity perhaps further underscores the notion that the abuse of human power almost always takes the same form, no matter its race, nation, or historical time period.

Like Matthew, the subjects of Greengold's other paintings are equally open to our involvement. In the portraits, the gaze of the subject more often than not meets the viewer's head-on; and, in "Caucus," the viewer completes the circle around the artist, who is depicted in its center, suggesting that we are somehow complicit in the action. In "Unknown," Greengold capitalizes on the well-known Nazi gas chamber-as-shower deception by depicting an unknowing figure in the moment before he pulls the shower chain. Because he is unaware of what awaits him, the look on his face is almost gleeful, eager, hopeful; only we as viewers know better, or in this case, worse. Thus, the horror of the painting is intelligible only as much as it operates on assumptions and associations viewers bring to the experience of the painting. One could say that it is the viewer's involvement-in fact, there were no actual chains in the gas chambers-that the anxiety and violence are rendered in the work at all. Greengold asks in these paintings, then, what the responsibility of knowing entails, since we can only judge a world that is as much dream and nightmare as it is real life with limited pieces of information and knowledge. In the end, it is our intuition that guides us, and not, ironically, the brute facts that we are able to grasp.