A conversation across time and space is happening now at M+B, and it's well worth some serious eavesdropping. The work of French artist Pierre Molinier (1900-1976) has issued a call of sorts, and Canadian-born, New York-based Aurel Schmidt (b.1982) supplies the response.
Have no fear of seeming prurient or voyeuristic. Both artists are performers at heart, courting the sensational and transgressive in both life and work. Molinier, primarily a painter, once depicted the crucified Christ as a hermaphrodite getting pinched, sucked and sodomized.
In "Save Me From Myself," one of her drawings in the current show, Schmidt renders a cross out of four seamlessly-fused penises, on a sheet of paper spattered with semen.
Molinier is represented here by the work he is largely known for, a series of black and white photographs and photo-montages made in the mid- to late-'60s. He used models at times, but mostly shot himself in fishnets, stilettos, corset, masks and veils, appended by false breasts and dildos. The pictures are curious more than titillating, offensive (one of his aims) or visually striking. Molinier poses within a domestic interior, before a pastoral-patterned folding screen, as if to underline his deviance from the bourgeois norm.
The pictures bear the aesthetic stamp of the '20s and '30s, Molinier's formative years, but they are products of a more radicalized, permissive era. In the montages, the most interesting works, he doubles and triples his limbs, turning himself into the love-child of Hans Bellmer's fetishistic doll and a multi-armed Hindu goddess.
Schmidt draws, beautifully, in pencil and colored pencil, with a Surrealist-tinged montage sensibility, joining the incongruous and impossible into compelling unities. While Molinier's hybrid visions serve as two-dimensional wish-fulfilment and take themselves exceedingly seriously, Schmidt's feel lighter, more like speculative play--flowers with nipples at their center, for instance, or a loop of conjoined lips, one orifice multiplied to hint at another.
Forms that repeat and can be read as something else are central to Schmidt's sly appeal. One of the simplest and most wonderfully unnerving of her drawings features faithful depictions of nine disembodied belly buttons, each one also mistakable for an eye, hooded clitoris, or some other, unknown bodily fold.
Schmidt and Molinier both traffic in the art of transformation, in the surpassing of conventional, biological boundaries. Their imagery fuels and is fueled by an expansion of sensual and sexual possibility--whether it is Schmidt giving a hand ten fingers or envisioning a blossom of ears, or Molinier marrying parts male and female, artificial and real.
Two of Schmidt's drawings here riff on Rorschach blots, specifically the notion that we see what we want to see. Both artists make explicit and visible what they want to see. Neither, I'd guess, would mind calling that an act of self-pleasuring.
M+B, 612 N. Almont Drive, West Hollywood, (310) 550-0050, through June 21. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.mbart.com