Elizabeth Kley and Conrad Ventur: Improbable harmony at Regina Rex

Guest Contributor Jonathan Stevenson / A two-person exhibition involving a couple of clearly kindred artists stands a good chance of being demurely satisfying on account of its agreeable predictability. But one of the features that makes for a truly outstanding show is apparent incongruity that surprisingly yields integration and harmony. Lower East Side gallery Regina Rex�s current exhibition �translucent threads of dawn� � the title itself is suitably enigmatic � is a fine example.

[Image at top: Installation view at Regina Rex.]

Conrad Ventur, MM  #7, 2010-2013, Ed.5+2AP, 40.6 cm x 61 cm. (Image is from the artist’s website.)

The show brings together Elizabeth Kley�s ominous ceramic cages (and one bottle) of different resonances, and Conrad Ventur�s haunting photographs of underground movie legend and Warhol favorite Mario Montez (who died in 2013) in various guises and locales. What do glazed clay enclosures have to do with a flamboyant cross-dressing gay actor?

Ventur�s exquisitely composed pictures recall some of Montez�s performances. They are vividly colorful yet relentlessly glossy, and Montez�s visage is expressive but constant. These qualities make the images seem at once extroverted and devoid of emotional differentiation. In turn, the delicateness and outward color of Kley�s work belie the manifest purpose of the structures it references: to capture.

What could emerge for some viewers from this juxtaposition is that Montez (and unconventional people like him) saw the cultural mainstream as a seductive trap, and eluded and defied it with deadpan resolve. This notion broadly jibes with the gender-role farce La Cage aux Folles (remade as The Birdcage), in which a cage also figures as a metaphor. Whether or not any allusion is intended, the exhibition tweaks social and emotional nerves in its own smart, provocative, and timely way.

translucent threads of dawn,” Regina Rex, LES, New York, NY. Through July 26, 2015.


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