A maniacally smiling cartoon character wearing a polka-dot bow hovers amid a succession of dangling nooses in Here’s . . . Honey (1992), a large-scale “chalkboard” wall drawing running the length of the entry gallery of Gary Simmons’s exhibition. In Bosko, a 1930s Warner Bros. animated TV-series, “Honey” (like “Bosko”) represents an African-American caricature. She is doubled in Simmons’s procession—appearing first behind the ropes, then in front—creating a frozen moving-image animated by the progression of the viewer’s body. Like a film reel stuck between frames, the image stutters between plot lines, suspended in a psychological and historical space.
Adjacent to Honey, two brick pillars topped with carved-stone figures of hooded Ku-Klux-Klansmen support a partially open black iron gate, which frames the entryway to the main gallery. Klan Gate (1992), through which the viewer must pass, forms a literal and symbolic threshold, causing awareness of implicit participation and invoking a racial subtext. The physical gesture, image, and idea of a state of absence is central to Simmons’s work, which investigates the politics of cultural memory and historical remembering.
In Bonham Theatre (2010), a ghostly, chalk-white image of a drive-in theater marquee disappears into a steel-gray background like a passing memory—or, as if seen through the window of a fast-moving car at night. Simmons’s rubbed-out, layered images and cross-referential visual strategies emerge through a fresh coat of tactical obsolescence. His work has a residue of the 1990s. It holds to a certain conceptual and contextual distancing and brushes over styles and modes of critique.
In the upstairs gallery, the absent artist is signified by a pair of bright white leather boxing gloves tacked to the wall next to his name typed in vinyl lettering. Everforward… (1993) appears here as a kind of a proxy for the artist. The words “NEVERBACK” and “EVERFORWARD” are stitched in gold thread on the cuffs of the gloves, replacing the ubiquitous Everlast brand logo. Alluding to a mantra of industriousness and perseverance, they suggest the notion of artist as tireless performer. (They also foreshadow Simmons’s subsequent boxing-ring installation, Step into the Arena [The Essentialist Trap], 1994, in the Whitney Museum’s collection.) Simmons’ title, Everforward…, undermines the implication of the metaphorical “hanging up” of the gloves in an ironical championing of the spirit of progress.