Don Perlis at Denise Bibro - Art in America, October 2000

Don Perlis at Denise Bibro – exhibition of paintings – Brief Article
Art in America, Oct, 2000 by Gerrit Henry

In a series of new paintings revolving around the traditional, stage-bound magic act, Don Perlis has located for himself a new metaphor for the act of painting. A woman is run through with swords and survives the ordeal. Suave and a touch oily, the magician, all in black with a red-lined cape and red cummerbund, passes his hoop around a young woman in a black corset, garters and stockings who levitates within a shaft of light

This realistic rendering of illusion is, of course, a pun on itself. Perlis is at his most endearing in a number of witty paintings late in the series. In “Transformation” (1998-99), the magician has applied his magic saw. He stands near the center, arms, cape and saw raised; to the right is his in-one-piece assistant. Beside her is a box atop a live-looking set of female legs, whose owner’s head and arms emerge from another box on the stage floor. On the left is a male in similar straits, except—doesn’t that head coming out of the box on the floor bear the beaming face of Don Perlis? And isn’t the guy receiving a standing ovation in “Transformation I” (1999) Perlis again, while the magician and his assistant are now boxed, and their legs and tops mismatched? There’s nothing magic about the trickery of art, however. Bravo to such sleight of hand!

Another group of works takes New York street life as its theme. Most stirring is “The Jazz Singer, Astor Place” (1996-98), at 60 by 120 inches, an epic mural for a time that doesn’t have much use for murals that aren’t advertising. Seen in the eternal dusk of a subway stop, a black woman with mike and combo holds forth in song for no one in particular and everyone in general. A few devotees gather around, while others buy from an ill-lit newspaper stand, lean against a pole to scan the ads, mount the light-flooded stairway behind the assemblage or board the “shadow train,” to quote the title of one of John Ashbery’s books, at the far right.

Perlis, who years ago studied at the Art Students League, currently teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In reaching from figure studies to subway arcades, he gives his new works a riotous seriousness.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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