Magazine article Artforum International

Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt: MoMA PS1

Magazine article Artforum International

Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt: MoMA PS1

Article excerpt

Pick any single work by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, and chances are it glows. Or sparkles, or shimmers, or, at the very least, reflects light, thanks to some medley of the glitter, foil, theatrical gel, tinsel, cellophane, neon tape, floor shine, and vinyl with which the artist forges collages, sculptural objects, and installations. The effect of encountering 160 such works, packed in vitrines and jamming the walls and columns of a single gallery at MOMA PS1, was quite literally dazzling; the lights were dim, one imagined, since the art was coruscating enough on its own. And because many of the objects are religious in form and theme, a mood approaching reverence ensued. Even the rats, figured in a few small sculptures here and there, were studded with rhinestones.

A photocopied handout offered some context on the rodents. In it, Lanigan-Schmidt, one of Stonewall's few living veterans, gives a stirring account of the 1969 raid, identifying himself and fellow bar patrons as "street rats." But the connotative, colloquial associations of "rat"--as someone who scurries across party lines, traitorously or invisibly--also provide an apt emblem for Lanigan-Schmidt's outsider status, which this retrospective of almost four decades goes some way toward modifying even while exposing its causes. It's tricky to fit him in anywhere. His more-is-more aesthetic ran afoul of the cooler orthodoxies that prevailed when he started working in the late '60s, and there is also the matter of the fundamental clash that his practice accommodates handily: homosexuality and the church (Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox). He manipulates such down-market materials as linoleum and plastic wrap with assiduous affection, misting, stapling, and gluing them into tokens of devotion such as crowns or chalices. What looks on first glance untethered to convention is actually dense with reference, not only ecclesiastical but art historical, evidenced here in riffs on Rubens, Mondrian, and Giacometti. Lanigan-Schmidt's output is too canny to be kitsch, too sincere for camp, too trashy to be construed as a swipe at commodity treasure.

Raised in the working-class, churchgoing city of Linden, New Jersey, Lanigan-Schmidt decamped for Manhattan in the late '60s. Smarting from rejection by Cooper Union, which he believed was the result of his being gay, he retreated to the confines of his East Village apartment, mounting environmental extravaganzas for a coterie of intimates. …

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