Art in America, May/June 1979, Vol. 67, N° 3, p. 144
by Wade Saunders —
Five years ago Ida Applebroog lived in Southern California and made modular sculptures. in accompanying codices she proposed alternate arrangements of the modules. You could follow her through the suggested operations until she abruptly changed the rules, as if to make clear the dominance of the text over the objects, and of the artist over her audience. What’s impressive about Applebroog’s current representational work is her fusion of phrase and image, and her astonishing empathy, gutsiness and ambiguity. The pieces are simultaneously self-effacing and personal, legible and mysterious, radically homely and exquisite, parodic and serious. She takes complex emotional and cultural material and puts it into a simple visual and verbal form. She uses humor to communicate things otherwise hard to articulate, make human interactions less threatening, and thus overcome estrangement.
She recently exhibited five drawings resembling illuminated manuscripts and three sequences from a cycle loosely titled “Galileo Works.” The pieces are acrylic medium over red ink on vellum. The gelatinous, shiny medium makes the paper stiff and parchment-like. The illuminated drawings, with their extensive notes nominally addressed to herself, direct our reading of the serial works in which she repeats a single image five or more times. In these series, she folds back the edges of each page to bring the surface an inch off the wall, like a shoe-box top. All the pages are bordered left and right by gathered stage curtains and at the top by a proscenium. Simple arrangements of almost expressionless figures, often headless and androgynous, fill the stages so rendered. The dress is modern, the situations topical.
Her drawing is simple, the line thick. The unmarked paper or ground is cut away and the pages reduced to figure. Each one is lit so that a silhouette projects onto the wall, doubling the image, giving it depth, making it ominous. Captions reminiscent of titles from a silent film appear in the series to hint at the nature of the situation or give the subjects speech. The economy, the lighting, the large characters on small stages, the tragicomic themes—all suggest a puppet theater. The headless figures are like those props in a photographer’s studio through which you poke your own head to enter an exotic scene.
Applebroog also showed ten small books which had been mailed in a series. The books are constituted of repeated photographs of the stages, their captions now typeset. By subtitling each book “A Performance,” she suggests that this is only one rendition of the script. She has written, “Each book is a series of images where nothing ever really happens, is composed more of silence (what isn’t being said) than of words. It is the words that punctuate the silence.”
In the eight panels of Say Something a nude woman and a headless androgyne wearing only a shirt are on their knees facing upstage. Her face is turned toward us. “Don’t you want me?” appears in panel one, “Say something” in panel six. Nothing else is said or heard. Insecurity, even terror arises from the opacity of another’s intentions, from a lover’s silence. The drama is domestic, frozen forever or constantly recurring. “Aw come on honey, take off your shirt,” would completely alter the work. In the manuscripts she writes, “But actually all the stories are the same story. It doesn’t matter how I tell them, it all comes out the same. By the time you arrive on the scene the story is over.” What’s left is the situation, which draws us in.