Jennie Ottinger’s current solo show “Members Only” at Johansson Projects in Oakland is full of disturbing little malevolent children. Ottinger’s work humorously examines the dark side of social grouping. Signifiers such as pins, uniforms, suits, and bonding activities like sitting in circles and holding hands seem to train youngsters for corporate futures featuring salesmanship, retreats, and trust falls.
Ottinger’s signature loosely rendered style presents a richly dark view of childhood in an almost slapstick way. In “Are You Buying What We’re Selling?” a disturbing group of uniformed young girls displays boxes covered with images of other uniformed young girls. The piece immediately calls to mind the Girl Scout cookie selling plague visited upon us annually by legions of young girls and their precocious parents in the name of developing “leadership” capabilities.
“Important Meeting” presents groups of macabre looking businessmen standing idly in groups that seem to be determined by the color of their suits. In this unusually colorful boardroom it seems impossible that anything important could be happening. The ghoulish figures hover and stare blankly, not connecting with each other or the viewer.
In addition to the dark wit present in her work, Ottinger shows an admirable amount of painterly restraint. Her gestural figures are often referred to as “ghostly” and capture the sort of fleeting memories that punctuate childhood. Her technique offers a fantastic combination of concept and material. She capitalizes on the emotional weight of moments that are repeated throughout our lives yet tend to be overlooked. Her ghoulish children are not yet fully formed, and are frightening for precisely that reason.
Humor is supposedly achieved by highlighting incongruity and illuminating some type of unspoken truth, “Members Only” succeeds brilliantly on both levels. The show is on view until September 19th at Johansson Projects. Make a point to go see it.
-Contributed by Kelly Inouye