“Candy-Ass”: confessions of a self-loathing, reluctant artist

by Rachel Davis on 04/02/2017

Cary Leibowitz: Museum Show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum runs through June 25th, 2017. This is the first career survey show for the New York-based artist. The exhibition includes over 350 works from 1987 to present, all dealing with subjects of the art market, queer politics, and kitsch.

In an evocative and humorous manner, Leibowitz brings a critical eye and examination of the artist as human. Where interpersonal struggles are not hidden behind the esteemed and weighted title of “artist,” but rather redefined through the vulnerability that persists within all mediums of his work.

From his emergence in the 1990s, his nickname “Candy-Ass” provided a reputation of a self-loathing reluctant artist. By questioning the mainstream culture of American society through his gay and Jewish perspective, his work is innately personal and autobiographical. When entering the exhibition, I was immediately drawn to the scale and use of so much wall space. It felt like a site-specific installation, where we were stepping into the inner echoes of Leibowit’z thoughts and psyche. If he had wallpaper encompassing his mind I now know it would be cotton candy pink.

 

There is a beautifully poetic interplay between words and objects within the entire exhibition that I found very satisfying and interesting. Phrases that were casually and quickly painted seemed to emit a sense of indifference. These were notes and thoughts presented together in an amplified notion of I am here, this is what I like to engage with, look at what inspires me.

I enjoyed seeing his ceramic text pieces. For me it was saturated in this idea of a “Dear Diary.” Words as a tool to feel heard, to express and emit what one is trying to understand or learn about their experiences. And when paired with specific objects, it became even more poetic and ephemeral.

Although it could be argued that Leibowitz’s work isn’t the most ground breaking, it is more evocative in the context of documentation. What does it mean to have his work reflect his experience of growing up gay in the suburbs and having that story shown in galleries?  He uses his vulnerability as a weapon and a transformative force that echoes far beyond him. Themes of inadequacy from our constant critical self are perpetuated through the idea that the work is lowbrow and disposable.

Leibowitz’s Museum Show elicits a wide range of emotions: it is nostalgic and looks like a personal journal entry. By diverting from popular mainstream artistic culture back in the 1990s, Leibowitz was able to cultivate a unique and powerful body of work. In this way he activates a sense of struggle within all of the viewers. But perhaps that is a beautiful kind of art: personal as powerful, personal as political.