by Evan Moffitt

Gladstone Gallery, Brussels


Published in Issue 303 of Flash Art, July 2015

From Blood to Navel, oranges are a potent bodily metaphor. Luster and fragrance invite a kind of cannibalism: we peel away their skin and suck the juice within. Love for Three Oranges, a group show at Gladstone Gallery Brussels organized by Karma NYC, evoked the dark carnality lurking beneath brightly colored rinds.

The exhibition’s premise came from Charles Bukowski. In his 1992 poem “Three Oranges,” Bukowski recalls his father finding him listening to Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges. “Boy,” the father remarks, “that’s getting it/cheap.” (The lines provide the title for Nate Lowman’s painting Getting It Cheap (2014).) The young poet considers his father’s sexual quip, those oranges “so mightily orange,” hanging ripe and ribald in his mind. For some at Gladstone the homonymic hue signaled something just past due: in Roe Ethridge’s photos, oranges rot on the branch, burnished black with mold. In three paintings by Will Boone, overlain block letters spell the title words RIPEN, ROT, and WILT (all 2015), entropy implied by the paint’s chromatic shift from red to orange.

Orange is a cheerfully emotive color, the tropical gold of cocktail garnishes. It’s also the color of detour and biohazard signs, a retinal signal flare or a marker of abject difference. A tuberous tangerine form is the repugnant Other in Sarah Lucas’s sculpture The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (2014), set apart from two pairs of peachy pantyhose legs. In Darren Bader’s To Have and to Hold: Object E1, a car battery licked with jam, orange is an invitation to touch, but a touch that could be deadly.

If the aesthetic detachment of certain works seemed at odds with sexual subtext, it was a feat of context to tease out from these the subtle eroticism of Dutch still lifes. Karma may have simply meant to herald spring with seasonal art, but the oranges gleamed with innuendo. At the poem’s end, Bukowski makes an Oedipal pact to “kill the Father.” His oranges are forbidden fruit—their sweetness tainted by sexuality, their consumption an act of patricide. A delicious and deadly paradox.