Sue Coe: 'Mad as Hell!: New Work (and Some Classics)'
24 West 57th Street
Through July 3
Neo-Expressionist painting had a strong but short-lived surge in the East
Village of the early 1980s, falling out of favor partly because its
political content too often felt decorative rather than deep. Sue Coe's art
was carried by the wave, but by then she had already been working, with
singular skill and focus, in an Expressionist mode for a decade, and has
continued to do so since.
She began in the 1970s, just out of school
in London, as a freelance news illustrator for The New York Times, among
other publications. But finding mainstream media too tame for her politics,
she started working on her own. In 1983 she had her first New York gallery
show and published a book (with Holly Metz), "How to Commit Suicide in South
Africa," a pictorial indictment not only of apartheid but also of a
capitalist system that, in her view, kept racism in place. The work from
that time -- part collage, part painting, indebted as much to Goya as to
Kaethe Kollwitz -- was graphically vivid and, polemically, intensely
on-message; some of it is on view in this gallery survey.
intensity has, if anything, sharpened over the years, even as her style and
content have changed. Collage is now all but gone; graphite drawing has
become her primary medium, and a very direct one. Her chief target for some
time has been the meat industry, which she turns into an all-encompassing
symbol of enslavement, exploitation and cruelty. If this is not an issue of
consequence to you, Ms. Coe's work will look cartoonish and overwrought. If,
however, you're at all on her wavelength, this is powerful stuff. In these
politically blase art-world days, a few outspoken artists --
Hirschhorn, Ai Weiwei -- are acceptable, even fashionable. Ms. Coe, in
her unfashionable way, should be considered in their company.