By Hunter Kissel
Is that a broccoli-poodle in the KMAC Triennial?!
Yes. Yes it is.
Among the dozen or so shaped panels that artist Lori Larusso painted for her wall installation, A Pastiche of Good Intentions (2019), visitors will also encounter a cow made of butter, a demolished and oozing watermelon, a squirrel adorning a three-tiered cake, some pigeons, and other eye-catching and slightly off-kilter components of an elaborate banquet.
Humor is apparent in Larusso’s Triennial work. How could it not be for a work that contains a roasted pig wearing a cone-shaped party hat? Yet humor is also a critical tool for the artist, who employs sardonicism to address domesticity, isolation, and class.
Larusso typically depicts locations around a home. By carving the surfaces on which she paints, she generates dramatic perspectives of kitchens, living rooms, and backyards. Omitting people from her work, she nevertheless includes objects like cakes and mops that imply these spaces are lived-in. In doing so, she raises questions concerning who may be responsible for tending to these kinds of settings and which household tasks might be assigned to someone based on their gender, age, race or class. A Pastiche of Good Intentions is no different, encouraging viewers to consider who may have been responsible for preparing and delivering these items to the table.
Presented devoid of people, A Pastiche of Good Intentions may elicit feelings of isolation. All of the food faces the viewer as if no one else will be joining them to eat. Either that, or Larusso has arranged everything to be photographed before attendees dig in, similarly to how many people upload images of their meals to Instagram, blogs, and other websites for sharing and re-posts. Such virtual interaction can instigate a sense of emptiness as well, noted in the painting by the banality of texting icons and emojis. (Did you notice the lemons ready to be sliced are borrowed from Apple’s emoji keyboard?) The table may be staged well enough for the Internet, but elements such as the broken watermelon and plastic carry-out bags highlight discrepancies between the ways in which glamored projections of our lives often contrast day-to-day experiences.
Some of the painting’s impact stems from its excessive nature, which at times is denoted by amusing components: a lobster wearing a “Happy New Year” tiara, a pineapple drink sitting atop stacked plates, a balloon gone adrift, and more. As comical as these can be, they help shed light on class divisions and visual markers of social status. Who can afford expensive food and dinnerware? To what extent do balloons and other decorations represent one’s financial stability? In A Pastiche of Good Intentions, divergent and contradictory markers of class are at play, which may make the carry-out bags or roasted pig seem that much more out-of-place.
It isn’t necessary to be able to answer the question of who prepared the banquet. Rather, Larusso is concerned with the ability of the objects she paints to signify certain presumed lifestyles and experiences (or not). In a sense, her painting in the KMAC Triennial is a language waiting to be decoded, one that relies on symbols and icons instead of words to generate meaning.
Unsurprisingly, the broccoli-poodle has been a hit with KMAC visitors during the Triennial’s run. What’s more, it serves as an effective gateway to surveying the entirety of Larusso’s work. With so many accessible, funny, and familiar imagery populating A Pastiche of Good Intentions, Larusso is able to introduce heavier themes that reflect the variety of lived experiences in Kentucky as well as nationally and internationally.