Dare you take offense at Steven Wolf Fine Arts?

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"Titties and Milk" by Keith Boadwee, Erin Allen, and Issac Gray

Keith Boadwee is a fascinating artist. Known for his outrageous self-portraits -- which combine media that include but are not limited to photography, performance art, painting, self-administered enemas, and pornography -- his work is unorthodox to say the least. Boadwee has photographed himself in situations that 99.999% of the world would probably rather die (like for real die) than experience for themselves, and he kills himself fearlessly (see NSFW -- I repeat NSFW -- images on his Web site). Viewing Boadwee's work in a gallery setting, such as that of Steven Wolf Fine Arts, is like experiencing the collision of someone's private world with your own public forehead.

Boadwee's "Denim on Ice" exhibit there -- consisting of works he made with his former students Erin Allen and Issac Gray -- evokes the demented scribblings of a disturbed child, albeit one with a great sense of humor. In a more hostile environment, these painting would be legitimately disturbing. Seen together as they are, crowded onto a single gallery wall, the effect is still one of something totally crazy, though overall harmless. Even weirder: the paintings in this exhibit, with their wholly unsophisticated content, evoke the high expressionism of artists like Matisse and Muehl. My favorite piece in "Denim on Ice" was the still-life rendering you see above, "Titties and Milk," a strange composition of breasts, a glass of milk, and a hat-wearing cactus (who has a face).

"Lincoln Log Bong" by Boadwee, Allen, and Gray

The gallery describes "Denim on Ice" as "paintings that take low humor and bad taste so far they come around again as refinement." To me this feels accurate. The paintings are in such absurdly bad taste that it's difficult to imagine how taste level can possibly go lower. While I wouldn't call any of the work particularly "refined," the collection displays its subterranean brow so cheerfully that you can't help but smile and enjoy the ride.

"Birmingham I" by Rives Granade

Paintings "Birmingham I" and "Birmingham II" by Rives Granade -- also on display in the gallery in a collection called "Love Force" -- pluck figures from famous civil rights photos and transpose them into the sterility of corporate architecture. The effect is uncanny in the strictest Freudian sense. The old black and white photographs of the Birmingham freedom marches, with their nightmarish displays of police brutality, disturb and shame us deeply. In light of the past, the instinctive reaction upon viewing these new paintings is to cry blasphemy. Upon further examination, viewers will note that these paintings are not actually politically irresponsible.

"Birmingham II" by Rives Granade

The images, which draw from the firmament of political history, invite viewers to draw new moral comparisons. The past is still present in Granade's re-contextualized paintings, camouflaged but not erased. The brutality of that past is obvious, even in an ahistorical setting that seems, for all its artifice and architecture, like a Hobbesian state of nature.

Keith Boadwee, Erin Allen, and Isaac Gray: "Denim on Ice"
Rives Granade: "Love Force"
Through March 20
Steven Wolf Fine Arts
49 Geary Street
www.stevenwolffinearts.com

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