Review: Blake Boyd: “My Pinocchio Syndrome for Abigail... Ten Years Later. This Ain’t Disney, Jeff.”

If Blake Boyd’s latest show at Gallery Bienvenu stirs up feelings of déjà vu, that’s because it’s happened before, at least partially.

Installation view of Blake Boyd's “My Pinocchio Syndrome for Abigail…Ten Years Later. This Ain’t Disney, Jeff.” featuring Neon, Growth., 2001. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Bienvenu, New Orleans.

Blake Boyd
Gallery Bienvenu
518 Julia Street
June 2—July 23, 2011

Although nothing short of egocentric, “My Pinocchio Syndrome for Abigail…Ten Years Later. This Ain’t Disney, Jeff.” is satirical, revealing, and, as the title suggests, deeply personal. It’s also curated by bombshell actress and amateur art historian Jennifer Coolidge.

Returning to the space formerly known as Galerie Simonne Stern, where the first incarnation of “My Pinocchio Syndrome for Abigail” was shown in 2001, Boyd revisualizes the past with a collection of both old and new work that dramatizes the provocative story of a childhood brutally disturbed by his parents’ divorce and a friendship cut short by death decades later.

As usual with Boyd, no juvenile symbol is safe. Beloved Disney characters like Alice and Snow White are allegedly painted in Boyd’s own blood, while Pinocchio’s image is duplicated countless times in paint and neon lights. There are three large sculptures of Captain America’s iconic shield, each one thoroughly distressed, appearing battle-worn and pockmarked with chips and scratches. Boyd labels them Shield. (For Jeff)., 2011, referring to Jeffrey Cook. A close friend and fellow artist who died two years ago, Cook urged Boyd to stay in New Orleans after suffering a breakdown in the late 1990s, encouraging Boyd to channel his demons into an art show. Was Cook a fan of Captain America? Maybe, but there are hints that the shields have another darker meaning: perhaps not even an indestructible piece of armor could have saved Cook from his early demise.

Although steeped in pop culture, Boyd manages to avoid triteness. His references feel specific, as if part of some intimate joke among cohorts or even past selves. Boyd trained under artist George Dunbar, and Andy Warhol is an obvious inspiration, but there are also hints of Renaissance influence. In the massive eight-part photograph Death of a Poet., 2001, Boyd as a dying Pinocchio lies in the arms of a nude woman wearing a mask and Mickey Mouse ears—a pervert’s Pietà. Disney World opened on the artist’s first birthday, and his grandmother and two uncles worked there, but one also thinks of Paul McCarthy’s famously grotesque videos of the puppet that dreamt of becoming a real boy. Beethoven, Stanley Kubrick, even actress Bijou Phillips (to whom the 2001 overture was dedicated) all have cameos in Boyd’s rambling story.

Blake Boyd, Death of a Poet., 2001. Eight-part color photograph. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Bienvenu, New Orleans.

If all of this seems disjointed, don’t worry—the artist takes great care to outline his tale with sidebars of text on the gallery walls. If you still end up confused, you’re not alone, just recall a quote from curator Coolidge: “I really don’t get this stuff.”