Artforum, March 2019
Embedded in the nebulous and frequently exasperating terrain of emotional labor is the work of keeping up appearances. For the romantic partners of powerful people—often the wives of men—these efforts usually germinate into an alter ego that plays the dual role of host and companion. Jane Kaplowitz’s exhibition “RSVP: Jane Rosenblum (1977–2018)” paid tribute to this performance of self. Kaplowitz was married to the renowned art historian Robert Rosenblum, some twenty years her senior, who died in 2006. Over the course of their relationship, the artist found herself at the center of the art world while also building a more private studio practice. This exhibition, Kaplowitz’s first solo show in nineteen years, prominently featured works that appropriated ephemera from the Rosenblums’ social life, which toggled between Bohemia and the institutions that traditionally determine artistic value.
In the gallery’s front window hung a wry reminder of Kaplowitz’s previous achievements: Announcement Card, An Artist’s Studio, 1993, a four-by-four-foot painting of the invitation for her exhibition that year at the gallery Jason McCoy Inc. With gestures like these, it is tempting to compare her work to feminist institutional critique. But unlike Louise Lawler’s clinical photographs of museum and gallery installations or Andrea Fraser’s pitch-perfect parodies of arts discourse, Kaplowitz’s works are built around the messy imbrication of her public and private selves. Fraser has written about the impossibility of maintaining the artistic position of being a detached outsider, asserting, “The institution is inside of us, and we can’t get outside of ourselves.” Still, few of the artists engaged in institutional critique openly flaunt their enjoyment of the art world’s favorite rituals—such as dinners, parties, and gossip.
Not so for Kaplowitz. Most of the thirty-odd works in this exhibition included painted reproductions of show invites, galas, and book launches. Except for a few superstar women such as Jennifer Bartlett and Zaha Hadid, the notices celebrate male artists, thus comprising a damning if unsurprising record of patriarchal bias. Kaplowitz began the series with straightforward enlargements. Take Carl Andre, 2010,a rendering of a card for the Minimalist’s bombastically titled 1996 outing “Prospective Retrospective.” Since 2010, Kaplowitz has experimented with layering painterly motifs, from the colored fish in Joel, 2017, an invitation for a Joel Shapiro opening, to the silhouettes of assorted countries, including Iran and Italy, in Boetti, 2008.
Curator Alison Gingeras installed the show salon style, accentuat in Fortnight’s intimate, domestic scale. Cheap patterned mats covered the floor, and an alcove contained an eclectic mix of Kaplowitz’s personal effects—a bunny mask, a wooden Star of David, an Iggy Pop bobble-head doll. This arrangement was intended to evoke Kaplowitz’s West Village digs, where she and Rosenblum were entrenched in the LGBTQ+ community. “As long as I can remember, I always had gay friends and a gay sensibility,” Kaplowitz declared in a 1997 interview. Here, queerness was shown to be an integral part of her world, evoked in works ranging from tender images of gay couples (including a 1993 portrait of the former Artforum editor in chief Jack Bankowsky and the curator Diego Cortez) to cutesy drawings of animals paired with explicit captions (These Monkeys Like to Get Fucked Up the Ass, 2010) to a pastel rendering of Madonna and Britney Spears’s infamous kiss at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. More subtly, Kaplowitz included two handmade reproductions of Gilbert and George’s breakup letter to the dealer Anthony d’Offay, terminating their professional relationship; in one version from 2018, Kaplowitz has painted the background in washes of lavender.
A group of works suggested the joys and struggles of reshaping one’s identity following personal loss. Made a few years after Rosenblum’s death, the collages Queer Middle Ages and No More Bougie Gays, both 2010, featured photographs of the artist dressed in pajamas while kneeling in prayer, surrounded by hand-colored bubble letters and flowers. In Alprazolam, 2017, Kaplowitz rendered an anti-anxiety prescription—written for Jane Rosenblum—on a field of sickly green, to which she added a drawing of a boar outfitted with an oversize nose ring. The appearance of her married name is sobering, yet it also alluded to emancipatory potential, conjuring the flip side of the alter ego: the renewed sense of self-discovery.