Walton Ford. (Reviews: New York)

By Schwendener, Martha | Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Walton Ford. (Reviews: New York)


Schwendener, Martha, Artforum International


PAUL KASMIN

Walton Ford regularly offers a web of images and text exhuming whole realms of history: the history of natural science and zoology; exploration (and its attendant exploitation) and colonization; the history of images, artistic and otherwise; even the history of history. Remarkably, he accomplishes this feat in watercolor, one of the more lightweight mediums in the lexicon of modern and contemporary painting.

This show featured eight of Ford's medium-size and large paintings that at first seem to mimic Audubon prints and their ancestors, which hark back to scientific illustrations and plein air topographical drawings of landscapes and seaports. The Starling, 2002, for instance, features a huge, carefully rendered bird perched on a branch. Surrounding the starling are other birds, smaller in scale, which bear prey in their beaks. Under the entire group, Ford painted in careful script the Latin name for each bird (e.g., Sturnus vulgaris for the starling). The strange underpinnings of these works became clear as one walked through the gallery. Dirty Dick Burton's Aide de Camp, 2002, depicts a primate--the common langoor (Presbytis entellus)--standing in an abandoned nineteenth-century-style camp (somewhere in the "Orient") clutching a hookah, the "Dick" Burton referenced actually Sir Richard Burton, a "gentleman-naturalist" who once invited forty monkeys to his dinner table so he could learn their language. Space Mon key, 2001, verges on the bestial-pornographic: A female monkey with bright pink genitalia appears mounting her mate's waiting erection, while a caption overhead reads PATTI SMITH GROUP--EASTER--TRACK #2. As in all his works, Ford references the world of naturalism (populated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with rich white men who scoured the globe for "specimens"). But he also pulls out a gritty Patti Smith quote in which she is accosted by a "Space Monkey UFO" and removed from her environment--a little like the animals relocated from their jungles to the Museum of Natural History, one of Ford's favorite haunts. …

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