Editor’s Note: The below is the curatorial statement for NEON GOTHIC, my 2/4 show at Ketchup City Creative in Pittsburgh. I wanted to reprint it in UP so that those who didn’t get the chance to attend in person could hear my thoughts on it, but also to pay homage to the fact that the domino effect of events that led me to curating it in the first place began with writing for this magazine. As a broke, lonely creative writing student working at a luxury mall I never envisioned myself in the world of visual art. T.K. has been one of my biggest cheerleaders in both my personal and professional life, and it’s not hyperbole to say that working with UP probably changed the course of my life. This magazine means a lot to me, and I’m so grateful that everyone who reads it is along for the ride with us.
When I took the subway to school every morning as a teenager, I walked down Dyckman Street and observed dark spots of gum embedded in the sidewalk, colorful newspapers flattened by dirt and grime, misplaced earrings and lipsticks, and rain-stained pizza boxes. I got on the train and arrived in Riverdale where I attended school in a sprawling building from the 1800s where we sang an Alma Mater every Tuesday—interestingly, my high school’s motto was Magna Est Veritas Et Praevalebit, which is the title of one of the paintings in this show. I became interested in the beauty of flashing CASH 4 GOLD signs in my neighborhood and the glimmering hoop earrings sold on the racks at the beauty supply store, but also in the beauty of the art nouveau buildings of the Upper West Side where my classmates lived and the Gothic of the Cloisters museum, a European castle transported brick by brick into the park across from my apartment building in what used to be the highest crime neighborhood in New York. If that isn’t Neon Gothic, I don’t know what is.
But, so, on that note, what exactly does Neon Gothic even mean? It’s finding beauty in the everyday. It’s approaching things that scare you with an eye of curiosity. It’s inverting power and sexuality and making them kitschy and comical while appreciating their sublime nature.
But, so, on that note, what exactly does Neon Gothic even mean? It’s finding beauty in the everyday. It’s approaching things that scare you with an eye of curiosity. It’s inverting power and sexuality and making them kitschy and comical while appreciating their sublime nature. It arose in part out of my love story with the city of Pittsburgh, my new home where I learn more about myself every moment I spend in these rain-soaked streets under trees that glow golden against saturated grey skies. And, let’s not kid ourselves, Neon Gothic is also just fun. It’s unashamed revelry, art that for all of my fancy language doesn’t have to have pretenses. If you want to stop reading this now and go drink some wine, eat some cake, and look at pretty colors, that’s Neon Gothic. But for someone who just claimed to not to want to be pretentious, I’m going to do pretty pretentious and quote Nietszche: Part of Neon Gothic is Nietszche’s idea that “I would only believe in a God that knows how to dance.” Neon Gothic is the fact that I’ll lead a Torah study session at Rodef Shalom and pray in an ancient language with complete sincerity in the same day as dancing for four hours under a disco ball at Mixtape while downing an amaretto cocktail called “Scene Queen. “
If you want to stop reading this now and go drink some wine, eat some cake, and look at pretty colors, that’s Neon Gothic. But for someone who just claimed to not to want to be pretentious, I’m going to do pretty pretentious and quote Nietszche: Part of Neon Gothic is Nietszche’s idea that “I would only believe in a God that knows how to dance.”
One of the things that makes this show unique is its mixture of figurative, abstract, and environment-based work. One moment you’re looking at a portrait, the next sucked into a photographer’s vision of a landscape, and then a second later into a multimedia neo-expressionist collage. Curation, just like fiction, is storytelling, with dialogue and narration and pacing. The artworks of Neon Gothic communicate with each other, and in turn with the viewer. Ian Mrjdenovich’s Fallen Angels beat their wings off of the page, confronting us with figurative versions of the ugliness inside of us.. I paired the fallen angels with Alex Lecce’s The Star and Premonitions, vibrate and elaborate paint on the surface of mirrors the artist found at secondhand stores. If you look closely at the eyes of the figure The Star, you’ll see the glimmer of the mirror underneath the paint. When I got both of these pieces, I knew I wanted to put them together to form a sort of altar at the front of the show, honoring both the artists whose visions I respect and love so deeply and honoring the strange, sometimes terrifying beauty portrayed within their work.
And Lecce’s I Am Not He merited its own wall as a statement of this show’s ethos—Those who know me will know how much I love Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, and I Am Not He felt like a callback to that incredible painting. If Artemisia Gentileschi and Lisa Frank traveled through time and collaborated with each other, you might get I Am Not He.
Aletheia’s Terroir takes us into an Alice in Wonderland-esque forest of saturated color and texture. Aletheia, Alex EZ Talbot, and Chunbum Park all paint visions of another world, Talbot with paint on manipulated urban photography, Aletheia with mixed media, and Park with a ghoulish yet seductive reconstruction of a painting destroyed in a flood. I carried Magnum Est Veritas Et Praevalabit (Super Manipulation #1) in my arms through the New York City subway and re-used a suitcase I hadn’t opened since my family packed up our life to move abroad during my childhood in order to get the painting on the plane back to Pittsburgh with me. So, all that to say I spent quite a lot of time with that print, and it’s one truly worth lingering on. Aletheia, Chunbum Park, and Alex EZ Talbot create layered experiences of reality that force us to look deeper at what might lie beneath the one we inhabit.
Aletheia’s Terroir takes us into an Alice in Wonderland-esque forest of saturated color and texture. Aletheia, Alex EZ Talbot, and Chunbum Park all paint visions of another world, Talbot with paint on manipulated urban photography, Aletheia with mixed media, and Park with a ghoulish yet seductive reconstruction of a painting destroyed in a flood. I
Evelynn Maysonet’s All We Are is Flesh and Bone captures the painful moment of understanding in a woman’s life that you will never be seen as fully human in many contexts. It’s an extremely difficult to convey idea that Maysonet transmits using an unparalleled facial expression of anguish. In contrast, Maysonet’s other piece, Ritmo, is serene and fluid—where All We Are is Flesh and Bone is a barrage of color, Ritmo is a neon outline on black. The first piece shows the grotesque performance of femininity, the second something deeper and more subtle. Sofia Ciniglio’s One Mind at a Time has a similar fluidity to its shapes and feminine sensibility in its composition. Then there’s the most gothic of the photography featured, Kaley Marie’s Hotel Cecil a harsh red that cuts through the cyan blue of Anonymous’s first Untitled. By the way, for the record, I know who Anonymous is, but I’m not telling! You’ll have to admire their haunting bokeh photograph in contrast with the sharp architectural framing of the other one.
A lot of the work within Neon Gothic is intentionally playful. Natasha Kromka’s mixed media pieces in particular are slightly uncanny but dynamically funny, Gumby playing on a dimly lit suburban street and anthropomorphized pigeons disobeying road signs. Similarly, Coyote Jacobs’s Laundromat and Not My Problem use humor to mask a deep sense of existential despair that pervades the everyday. Grant Catton’s found surface paintings are powerful and disarming but have a sardonic sense of humor to them that really leave you feeling like you’ve had a full conversation with them after looking at them. Filter Kings (Genuine American Flavor) is one of my favorites of Catton’s work, so I’m thrilled I got to feature it in this show. The “Bubble Yum – Original Sin” sticker on Mary Kate Noonan’s Chew Me Up (& Spit Me Out) shares that sardonic sense of humor, but simultaneously has an anxiety that buzzes from beneath the pink textures of the three-dimensional surfaces.
It’s neon rendered vulnerable and emotive, like the feeling you get under the strobe lights of a dancefloor when you realize you’ll have to wake up for work the next morning, or that that stranger next to you is someone you’ll never get to know.
Leah Gerstel’s FOREVER?, which only narrowly made it to Pittsburgh in time with the rest of Leah’s work, is a sort of ending note for the show. It’s neon rendered vulnerable and emotive, like the feeling you get under the strobe lights of a dancefloor when you realize you’ll have to wake up for work the next morning, or that that stranger next to you is someone you’ll never get to know. If only that ecstasy could last forever. But neon lights glow for a long time. You don’t have to go back to real life yet.
I want to say a thank you to Nanci Goldberg for believing in my vision for this show, to Josh Snider and PGH Print Ship for providing many of the printed materials, to Grant Catton for help with the installation process, to Coyote Jacobs for the amazing graphic of Rockwell’s American Gothic, and to every artist who participated and all the community they brought with them. Whatever brought you here today, I hope you leave a little bit more disturbed but a little bit more enchanted than you came in. As I wrote earlier, this show is a story, but unlike one of my novels, it doesn’t have an ending yet, because you are all creating it with me.