Deathbound and Sexed
Omari Douglin, Elizabeth Englander, Ian Markell
Someone use to live in Theta’s new subterranean home on Franklin Street. Or at least that’s what the gallery’s founder Jordan Barse believes. The spiritual remnants of a house still linger, including the outline of a doll-sized shower. The artists in Theta’s inaugural group show—Omari Douglin, Elizabeth Englander and Ian Markell—aren’t put off by these accommodations. They push into this crude domestic space, arms outstretched. The Los Angeles-based Markell even went as far as to install his own bar—or at least an installation piece that looks like one—titled February (2021), which comes with its own posters.
The three-person show, “Deathbound and Sexed,” doesn’t address the history and character of this particular basement (à la Julie Becker) but all the works circle around architecture, specifically that of the inner-self, highlighting the fragility of its facade and the scaffolding between spires. The result—a shared albeit sexy morbidity—feels like a stiff finger dragging the visitor to a mirror, so you can see just how vulnerable the body truly is.
Elizabeth Englander proffers the most generous interpretation of the relationship between life and death—she offers homemade transcendence. The New York-based artist assembled a flock of crucifixes out of bikinis she stole (or perhaps rescued) from a residency on the Seine. In their new lives as saints, in Bikini Crucifixion no. 14 (2021) [pictured], for example, the secondhand swimsuits become a technicolor dermis for both genderfluid and phallically endowed imitations of Christ on the cross. Sometimes hung in groups, these sun-bleached reliquaries radiate with Niki de Saint Phalle meets Matisse at the Vatican exuberance. In Englander’s church, sacrifice of self is not a supernatural act but a human one—strongly associated with femininity.
Englander’s life-affirming palette is shared by Omari Douglin, whose figurative paintings channel surf between The Matrix, Allen Jones’ mannequins, Sigmar Polke, and the Sunday funnies. They say paintings talk to themselves, but here, they scream at the television, too. Like a strobe, Douglin’s stop-motion compositions make it easy to trace the walkways of millennial nostalgia. Analyzing the data collected in works like Matriarchy (Matrix) (2021), we confront two things: we exist in a twilight zone of little progress, still fantasizing about the things we wanted and felt close to, some 30 years ago; and desire is cyclical and manmade—inscribed into all consumer product, Freud is clapping somewhere. If Englander’s work encourages collective ascension, then Douglin defends the nuance of chaotic neutral’s plateau.
Envisioned as a biblical triptych, perhaps Ian Markell would be forced by default to take up Hell’s mantel. But this show contains no packaged prophecy or moral to ferry away. Barse hopes that through the interlocutor of the body she is able to draw attention to artists who carry personal weight for her rather than outline a set of beliefs or truths. “This was my first show, I wanted to include artists I had been in dialogue [with] before and whose practice means something to me outside of a singular conversation,” Barse says. “The [physical] body just happened to be a place where multiple artists I work with connect but don’t necessarily overlap. It led me down a rabbit hole of looking at the way images take on these anthropomorphic lives.”
Huddled together in the basement, one can see why Barse might have set us all up on this blind date. There is a survivalist humor that sallies through the whole scene—maybe that’s how morbidity flirts. Luckily we have Markell to keeps us alive. His sculptures are grounded in tangible realism. Take for example, Live Entertainment/ 4600 Hollywood Blvd. (2021) which turns former strip club seats into minimalist punctuation. Not unlike Englander’s assemblages and Douglin’s iconography, Markell takes functional elements of our world and repositions them in a way in which we can finally remember the names we already forgot. —Kat Herriman
Elizabeth Englander, Bikini Crucifixion no. 14, 2021. Old bathing suits, steel, cotton thread, 36 x 39 x 6-1/2 inches. Courtesy Theta Gallery, New York.