Magazine article Artforum International

Keith Mayerson

Magazine article Artforum International

Keith Mayerson

Article excerpt

In this ongoing series, writers are invited to introduce the work of artists at the beginning of their careers.

Keith Mayerson gets jerked around. Out of school and on his own, he finds himself the butt of irreconcilable demands--to remain true to himself and yet to conform, to challenge society yet simultaneously to beg its approval. He is unsure whether to explore or deny his most intimate desires. Keith would like to straighten out his life, but it's a struggle--particularly because he's not straight.

"Pinocchio the Big Fag" is Mayerson's story, a suite of some 48 modestly scaled drawings and watercolors in which Mayerson restores to Walt Disney's celluloid distillation of C. Collodi's 19th-century teen saga the original's more fitful fantasies, literally fleshing out much of its huffing erotic subtext. In Mayerson's retelling, this fairy tale features more than one kind of fairy. A coming-out as well as coming-of-age tale, "Pinocchio the Big Fag" is a story of innocence affirmed through pleasure and of wickedness disguised as the prohibition of temptation.

Igniting interpretive chaos while maintaining a political edge, Mayerson's characters allegorize the ecstasies and sorrows as well as the mindless frivolity official morality renders unfathomable. In his hands, "Pinocchio" proves too mischievous for its conventional narrative, supplying Mayerson with a chameleonlike cipher for myriad cultural associations and psychological projections. His Pinocchio is a hammered-together construct, resembling Disney's wooden bambino in only one acetate painting, looking more often like a junior Timbertoe from Highlights for Children. Mostly, his depiction changes from artwork to artwork, touching on an array of picture-book styles, from expressionistic scrawl to elegantly languid line drawing. Indeed Mayerson only follows Collodi's version of "Pinocchio" to play with its overabundance of suggestive plot twists. (In his hands, Pinocchio's lynching at the hands of the Assassins turns into an opportunity for the little marionette to experiment with auto-erotic asphyxia.)

If Mayerson thus sinks one foot into the muck of tradition, he plants the other on the spotlit stage. Like its Disney counterpart, "Pinocchio the Big Fag" shares unlimited access to showbiz iconography. The Magic Kingdom invades the Old Country, turning its folklore into merchandise; Pinocchio the Box Office Hit mingles with Hollywood's elite. Mayerson casts celebrities who bring to their roles some of the most deeply felt sexual anxieties roaming though the pop unconscious. …

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