Hard to believe, but sixteen years have passed since Rosson Crow’s debut at the New York gallery Canada, which announced the recently minted twenty-two-year-old BFA as a precociously talented painter. Within just a few years, she would complete an MFA at Yale University and go on to have solo exhibitions at blue-chip galleries in Paris, Los Angeles, and London before mounting a major solo show in New York (her final until recently) in 2010 with Deitch Projects during the last days of Jeffrey Deitch’s first space in SoHo. By then, Crow had developed a style in which some detected an incongruously “male” approach to content, scale, and gesture. She decided to own it, showing big, bold interior scenes that toyed with the idea of artistic masculinity by image-checking canonical dudes such as Bruce Nauman and Allen Ruppersberg—as well as peers such as Dan Colen and Dash Snow—all detourned with graffiti-like drips, smears, and splashes in a manner that evoked those macho paint flingers of yore.
Questions about “male” or “female” ways of painting today seem risible at best, and Crow’s references now are very much her own. Her canvases remain immense, but they have deepened in both formal and conceptual complexity, solidifying her reputation as a maker of history paintings that fly in the face of a moment when both history and painting seem to be on fairly shaky ground. Her tour-de-force show at the Hole on Manhattan’s Lower East Side featured ten massive works that embrace the glut and wooziness of our current era. The smallest was seven by seven feet, and the largest nearly eight by twenty. Each one was strategically gorged with objects or figures—or both—until its compositional structure began to buckle and shred, like the glitchy clipping of an overloaded amplifier.
Certain pictures had an off-kilter “Where’s Waldo?” feel, their hypertrophic, Skittle-hued worlds suggestive of both uncontainable bloom and uncontrollable rot. Garden of Eden Recreation (all works 2019) was a case in point. An eight-by-ten-foot Rousseauian pastoral like a Hawaiian shirt dosed with acid and stretched into trippy, Technicolor wallpaper, the painting hides jokey little anachronisms among its dense passages of acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and bits of photo transfer. For example, an ancient Greek amphora bearing the graceful figures of the stadion is plastered with a 1970s-style bumper sticker that reads I’M A STREAKER; the vessel is nestled in a heap of fallen bananas and mangoes. Offering to the Gods was marked by more tropical plentitude, apropos of nothing but its own excess. It depicts a throng of overripe fruit and overcute plushies forming a sickly sweet mountain festooned with American flags. Meanwhile, pieces such as Standoff at the Bedrock Bunny Club and A Man and His Audience traded breedy jungle motifs for the arid desert tableaux of Crow’s native Texas. As if to make up for the relative lack of botanical diversity, A Man gins up the figures populating its composition: As a cowboy tends a fire, the air around his Conestoga wagon fills with distorted images of American “heroes”—Don Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Burt Reynolds; Elvis and Marilyn; George H. W. Bush; a late-’70s Tanya Tucker.
Crow’s paintings lament the aimless profusions of American culture—a hellish conflagration in a junkyard, for instance, or a missile range–cum–mini-golf course, or a post-Rapture street in a Mexican border town where all that remains are broke-ass cars and cruddy souvenir stands. One painting, however—titled KonMari after the relentless methodology of the anti-clutter crusader Marie Kondo—seemed to offer a possible solution to our destabilizing artifactual and informational deluge. The work is a huge and hugely satisfying pictorial blender into which Crow dumped some of the million and one things of our consumerist world that fail to spark joy before turning it up to eleven and punching Liquefy.
— Jeffrey Kastner