One might be excused for mistaking Fred Tomaselli’s solo show at the Brooklyn Museum for a pharmacy. Upon closer look, the collaged paintings, baroquely-arranged magazine clippings coated in a thick layer of resin, are embedded with pills the way a microchip is implanted under the skin. Sometimes the names are visible, Vicodin, Oxycontin, even a few Viagras. More often than not, though, the pills only become pills upon closer inspection. From afar, they just look like another element of Tomaselli’s works. Drugs are synthesized into the artist’s paintings, and though the psychological shock of recognizing a pill name remains, the chemicals form just another ingredient.
Yeah, there are drugs in the paintings. Most of them are probably illegal in such vast quantities at Tomaselli uses them. But though that’s the form of the work, that’s not the content: in this case, the medium is not the message. Aren’t we all done with the drug hysteria and fetish, now that weed is basically legal in California and the cliches of the painkiller-addicted housewife and the coke-snorting, bowl smoking banker are just that, cliches? So let’s giggle and move on. What’s behind the drugs in Fred Tomaselli?