Inter-Species Travel

Gay City News -Frank Holliday

The Chocolate Factory is located near P.S.1, in a hip and bustling area in Long Island City. The gallery has taken on a legendary New York artist who emerged in the '80s downtown art scene alongside icons such as David Wojnarowicz and Keith Haring. The first time I became aware of Judy Rifka's work was in a show curated by Haring at Ross Bleckner's building that housed the Mudd Club at 77 White Street in Lower Manhattan.

The paintings were gray fields with outlined figures floating among geometric dashes. People went crazy for them and she became a major influence in turning the art direction toward post-modernism. She has since had major shows in every museum and is collected around the world.

After laying low for a few years, Rifka has chosen to show her recent works, which return to her alternative roots, at an intriguing space out of the mainstream, the Chocolate Factory. The space is cavernous and underground, literally, and you feel as if you are embarking on an archeological dig.

There you discover many oddly shaped relics of some forgotten species mingling along a gray wall. They are Rifka's latest objects. She has deconstructed the painting to where it is both structure - skin, freestanding, no fronts or backs - and completely an object. In work suggestive of biotechnology products, genetic manipulations, and bony crustaceans, Rifka has created a new species.

Painted surfaces function almost like tattoos on flesh.

Images of bone petals painted in her transgressive hand and figures give us a sense of time, the way graffiti marks territory. Finally the creatures rise up to offer free-standing 360-degree examinations, mutations of the painted and the sculptural object

It lives.

Brightly colored, collaged paintings accompany these pieces, reflecting the collapse of Rifka's breed - functioning like cave drawings to record a species that was. Brightly biomorphic shapes collaged onto pristine linen remind me of butterflies pinned for examination and conjure Pollock and Krasner, as if in a re-examination of history. I remain on the fence about the success of these works, but I admire their direct and fearless attitude.

A series of drawings in oil pastel are my favorite. Sexually ambiguous forms turn and undulate with penises, vaginas, and breasts; they grow into new forms, sexually alive, both beautiful and grotesque. In fact, they surpass sexuality, pointing toward a futurist biology that lies at the source of this new breed of creatures.

I think this show is a great find and the space adds to its mystique. Its ambition conjures the way artists, prior to the art boom, were willing to show their work, as was the case with the 1980 Times Square Show. Art that ventures into unexpected spaces, outside the white cube.

Rifka and the Chocolate Factory are definitely worth a trip on the 7 train.