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Rob Pruitt: Getting to Love You

April 2, 2010
enamel paint and glitter on canvas

Rob Pruitt's Keeping Warm, 2001 (via gavinbrown.biz)

Rob Pruitt has been driving around for the past several weeks with a large stuffed panda in the back seat of his white Toyota Prius. The panda has seen better days — Pruitt found it on the side of the road five years ago on the way to his house in Montauk, where he has spent summers and many weekends since 2004 with his partner, the artist Jonathan Horowitz. Four toy panda cubs are in a box in the trunk. “I’ve been taking pictures of them in different poses,” Pruitt says.

He has been transporting the pandas to different locations, including Montauk and his studio in Brooklyn, on an industrial street near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. On a Sunday in January, Pruitt sits crossed-legged on the floor of his studio.

He’s trying to prop the ear of a small panda under the nose of the larger one so that they stay balanced long enough for him to snap some photos with his iPhone.

Pruitt himself is oddly adorable. He is softly silly in his mannerisms — every once in a while he twirls strands of his salt-and-pepper hair or pulls a chunk of bangs down over his right eye. Over dinner at a Japanese restaurant in downtown Manhattan near his longtime gallery, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, he suggests ordering dishes to share and refuses the larger or last piece of anything. He shows up for a studio visit with oatmeal cookies and coffee for two. His work is similarly rooted in gestures of intimacy and sharing. He has made art out of anything and everything: pictures of pandas, old blue jeans, images of Paris Hilton, Marimekko prints, glitter, iPhotos — with which he has plastered Gavin Brown’s gallery, both inside and out — even real estate. He infuses quotidian objects and concepts with a seductive sense of community spiked with irreverence and humor. In his actions and words, he comes across as conscientious and generous (Max Brown, Gavin’s son and Pruitt’s godson, compares his voice to a monk’s), but his narrow dark-brown eyes reveal a poignant reticence.

For nearly 20 years Pruitt has traversed the rocky terrain of taste, perception, and criticism and emerged a beloved underdog. For seven of those years, he lived in self-imposed exile after the debacle of “Red, Black, Green, Red, White, and Blue,” the 1992 blacksploitation show he mounted with his then partner, Jack Early, at the Leo Castelli Gallery. It was “probably the most reviled, the most embarrassing, and the most disastrous exhibition in the history of the downtown art world,” states Jeffrey Deitch, the New York dealer recently appointed director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in Pop Touched Me: The Art of Rob Pruitt, the artist’s monograph, released last month by Abrams. Continue reading . . .

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