The repetitive work at Byron Cohen makes us want to cry.

Hanky Panky 

The repetitive work at Byron Cohen makes us want to cry.

Vintage textiles, dresses and towels are on display in arduous density at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery, where three artists are disclosing their love of multiples and repetition.

Jil Weinstock has made startling garment pellets, wadding up dresses and other clothes from her fashionable grandmother and casting them in translucent rubber shapes. For a few of the pieces, she has cast only the bodice of the garment in rubber, allowing the rest of it to cascade freely. "Pink Dotted Swiss" illustrates how nonsensical these works seem. The cast rubber has no relationship to the garment, and the clothing seems neither nostalgic nor narrative. Floating within the large round disks, garments look like drowning victims; they remind me of the creepy last scene in To Die For, in which Nicole Kidman lies entombed just below the ice. Weinstock has similarly embalmed these garments, squeezing out whatever life was left in them — usually, clothing carries traces of the wearer's body, but not in these works. By squishing them into these rubber lozenges, Weinstock has neutralized garments into bland formal exercises.

Donna Rosenthal has a similar problem. Many years ago in New York, I saw Rosenthal's little paper dresses and suits on tiny hangers. They seemed quirky and witty. Now, by repeating them in larger installations and with different materials, Rosenthal has (though not to the same extent as Weinstock) suppressed what made them singular in the first place. Using traditional craft materials that evoke the past — vintage fabrics, comics, sheet music, old newspapers, hankies — Rosenthal trades on their literal and conceptual meanings. Reconstructing these materials into small dresses, Rosenthal capitalizes on the text found on the materials (in the newspaper pieces) and adds her own to extend the story and create continuity between the materials. But Cry Babies, a series of 10 dresses made from hankies, with titles such as "Fat Thighs," "Cellulite" and "A Bad Hair Day," seems forced and contrived. What is the relationship between hankies and these seemingly girlish phrases? They're missing the looseness and originality of Rosenthal's earlier newspaper works. It seemed novel to make tiny dresses and suits out of newspapers and comics, especially when the two seemed to have a visual dialogue about gender. But small dresses made from vintage hankies look more like doll clothes than social commentary.

By comparison, hallway installations by Marcie Miller Gross provide a site of relief and purity. With Progression 1/1 and Progression 1/3, carefully folded blue surgical towels create what the other artists' vintage textiles do not: sustained narrative content. With their color variations — fading and stained from use and laundering — the stacked towels tell a rich visual and conceptual history of the body and its weaknesses and ruptures, how it is cared for and with what. Now that is something to think about.

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