Not all shades of pink get equal attention. The glut of carnation pinks, the flood of hot pink, and the surges of magenta in street fashion, web design, and art — well, it adds up to a visual culture that leaves out other shades of pink. Cary Leibowitz’s new solo show (paintings and belt buckles) is exciting for many reasons. But what hits hard first is this rare hue of pink that covers every inch of the walls and coats the paintings’ backgrounds.
This special pink is known as sweet taffy. I guess it’s similar to the hue of those taffies children and tourists eat. Those candies can have strange, in-between colors. It’s not like the kids are going to care if the color is a little off, or failing to adhere to some exact color swatch category they don’t know about. Taffy’s chromatic je ne sais quoi is getting channeled in this show.
Sweet taffy is no ordinary pink. It’s a simmering melting pot of color, with a base of light pink, mixed in with a tad of periwinkle, hints of lavender, and maybe even just a dash of cerulean for its glow. Maybe that’s a stretch. But there is something about the lighting or the hue itself that brings in these hints of purple that you don’t normally see in pink. It shows up more in person than photos. It’s an exciting rare shot at experiencing a hue from the lesser-visited section of the color wheel.
This isn’t just about color, however; it’s also about words. In each of the paintings, Leibowitz has written witty phrases. He got the memo that brevity is the soul of wit, and their economy makes a real chuckle possible.
Some of these turns of phrase poke fun at feeling down with a sardonic smile. “Hey! I’m not deppressed [sic] anymore,” “I just got a pair of guccci for berfdorfs loafers for 50% off and I really do feel better.”
Others remind us that affection is sometimes expressed in less-than-elegant prose. “Is it great, you like Pizza, I like Pizza” or “I like your work… fuck you too.” There’s an edge and coarseness that every New York romance (or sycophantism) experiences.
There’s even a bit of ’70s queer history in one word play. “Bette Midler told me I can come” has a double meaning that can’t go unsaid. Before she was big, Bette Midler sang her heart out for gay men in a bathhouse. Whatever is meant by Beth’s permission to come … or that last words’s homophone … is left to your imagination. (And yes, that is the technical term for words that sound the same but are spelled differently.)
After that humor from below the belt, let’s segue to the belt itself. There are custom-made belt buckles on the walls, basically the only things in the room that aren’t pink. They refer to events that Leibowitz has entirely made up but would love to have attended: “Tippy Toe Tuesdays, Tuckahoe, NY 1961,” “New England Concrete Poets Picnic, New Canaan, 1981,” “Fourty-Fourth Fluxus Ice Cream Cone Lick-Off, Detroit MI, July 4th, 1976.” The buckles are for sale and will bestow moments of comic relief upon art openings for years to come. Who says you can’t have a memento from an imaginary event?
It’s all so off-color with Cary Leibowitz. He soaks the space in that sweet taffy pink that’s off-kilter and off-trend in terms of fashion’s narrow ideas of the “in colors.” The words wink at the viewer with double meanings and racy humor. And belt buckles go off script with colorful events that never happened. In both form and content, this work basks in living (off)color.
Cary Leibowitz: (paintings and belt buckles) is on view at Invisible Exports (89 Eldridge Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through October 13.
Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!