by Paul D'Agostino
Take Us Lying Down: Lisa Levy & Paul Gagner at Spring/Break Art Show
With just the right mix of awkward humor, self-effacement and intelligently irreverent seriousness to evade didacticism while making observations that are both piquant and relevant, Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner poke fun at and gainfully critique artists, the art world, art history, and people in general all at once—implicating all the while, perhaps even principally so, themselves.
Lisa Levy’s performative therapy sessions and related engagements with her audience are funny, to be sure, and at times pointedly cynical. But these same interventions are also sincere attempts at coming to an understanding of how people think, and of why they do the things they do—creative people, primarily though not exclusively. Through actions including a variety of performance pieces as well as her radio show, “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” Levy gets into people’s minds and probes their pasts, not invasively but also not really pulling any punches. Her casually non-clinical approach—she’s not really a doctor, after all—truly caring disposition and well-honed humor are utterly disarming, indeed even charming, encouraging her interlocutors to open up in surprisingly candid ways. At the same time, all this ‘therapy,’ as Levy readily shares with her subjects, is also very much about her—about her own insecurities and shortcomings, about her own creative and social anxieties. In a most literal way, Dr. Lisa’s therapy sessions are also a therapy of the self.
Enter Paul Gagner, a painter whose past few years of output have resulted in scores of similarly amusing, self-reflective, art-refractive works of quasi-clinical criticality. Pictorial analogs to Levy’s practices with performative therapy, Gagner’s abstractly figurative paintings question the viewer’s and artist’s agency and mental stability all at once, yet in a way in which the humor is so blatant as to even factor into the painter’s own self-portrayal in many compositions, as well as in his rather intentionally chunky, at times almost clunky material handling. Most exemplary of these tendencies are Gagner’s paintings featuring ‘books’ that have been ‘written’ by a certain Dr. Howard Moseley, M.D., with disquietingly hilarious titles such as A Beginner’s Guide to Home Lobotomy, Coping With Imaginary Foes, and Do It Yourself Coffins. The absurdity of such titles, and of the goofball ‘book jackets’ Gagner creates for the volumes, make them invariable crowd-pleasers. At the same time, there’s a profound honesty to the works as well, as they must also be read as only subtly exaggerated expressions of Gagner’s own insecurities regarding his capacities as a painter and interpersonal savoir-faire.
Take Us Lying Down will bring the materially divergent yet conceptually linked practices of these two artists into spatial and interactive confluence. The setting will be a therapist’s office of sorts—complete with an obligatory chaise longue—where Levy will offer her ‘expert’ counsel to any and all passers-through who are willing to lie down for a few minutes and open up. Prior to engaging in such ‘sessions’ with Levy, however, visitors will have to navigate a bookstore-like ‘waiting room’ featuring a selection of paintings and faux Moseley volumes crafted by Gagner. Gagner himself will be there too, a kind of strange but friendly receptionist who happens to be surrounded by canvas-bound depictions of himself.
Visitors to Take Us Lying Down will be amused upon entry, then probed in the rear. And they’ll receive bespoke snacks and silly tchotchkes for all their ‘troubles.’ On levels literal and euphemistic alike, this fully realized apparatus of somewhat dark, generally humorous, in part charlatanic, overall sincerely empathic ‘therapeutic’ interactions quite fittingly reflects ‘black mirrored’ notions of self. Care to schedule an appointment?
Lisa Levy is a conceptual artist, comedic performer, painter and self-proclaimed psychotherapist with a professional background in advertising. Her visual art has been widely exhibited at many venues, including The New Museum, The Bronx Museum, Pulse Art Fair, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Christopher Stout Gallery. Levy also performs live. Her most popular character is Dr. Lisa, S.P., who psychoanalyzes people on screen, stage and on the street, and whose ‘patients’ have even included celebrities such as Joe Gordon-Levitt and Amy Schumer. She currently hosts a weekly radio show called “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” in which she conducts funny, emotionally revealing ‘psychotherapy sessions’ with creative guests.
Paul Gagner received his BFA from the SVA in 2005, and his MFA from Brooklyn College in 2009. He has exhibited throughout the US, including at Halsey McKay, Driscoll Babcock, Lesley Heller Workspace, The Maryland Institute College of Art, the Housatonic Museum of Art, and The Richmond Center for Visual Arts. Gagner has been featured in New American Paintings, Baltimore City Paper, Art 21 and Hyperallergic. The Museum of Modern Art holds a series of Gagner’s collages in its print collection. Paul Gagner lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
This essay was composed as a curatorial statement for Take Us Lying Down, featuring Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner, on view at Spring/Break Art Show during New York Armory Week, from 28 February to 6 March 2017. Spring/Break Art Show’s location this year is 4 Times Square, 22nd and 23rd floors. Take Us Lying Down is situated in a duplex office setting on the 22nd floor, Suite 2246. More information about Spring/Break Art Show is here.
Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.