Alley Culture

Cover Magazine 1998

-George Tysh

Alley Culture, the site of Judy Rifka's A recent Detroit show, is a resurrected garage from the 1920s. Renovated in 1994 by painter Sherry Hendrick (the show's curator) and poet Mick Vranich, it's the locus of an ongoing gallery project that radically redefines the notion of an art space. Raw, wood walls, silver conduit and a wood burning stove make this a structural anomaly in the wild streets of the Motor City.

Rifka's spiritual work is a perfect fit here. Three imposing drawings, inspired by Tiepolo's 18th century Punchinelllo series; nearly fill the space. Stark, black lines on huge, white sheets, they configure a barely restrained abjection, anonymous faces, crooked arms and legs. And the subject matter, some variations on the humanoid cats of Rifka's Pet Boy series, softens the effect only slightly, since the north wall drawing shows "preparations for the crucifixion," the south wall "the burial," and the west wall "the resurrection:" a disturbing cohabitation of cartoon familiarity and the sublime.

Of course, the pet is an acculturated animal, and in these drawings Rifka combines both nature and culture in the image of a human anatomy with a feline head. The interplay between skewed genetic information, art historical inteitext and sensuous draftsmanship is dire and amusing, dramatizing an almost screaming contradiction in terms. The images ask an unavoidable question: what have we become?