Joyce Pensato's exhibition "Batman Returns" brings depictions of a familiar cast of characters: Batman, Eric Cartman and Homer Simpson, among others. But their innocence has not just been stripped away, it has been gauged out. Pensato confronts viewers with a claustrophobic army of deranged childhood friends. All your favorite characters are back, though they don't look too happy to see you. Bring yourself into the dark recesses of Homer Simpson or Batman's psyches... if you dare.
Pensato first began rendering the Caped Crusader in the mid-70s when she was still in art school, bored of traditional still life subject matter. Instead she began curating her own toy collection, replacing the nostalgic with the demonic -- all with the sick sense of humor of a creepy uncle. Her paintings remove our favorite feel-good characters from their sterile plasticity and give them the Abstract Expressionist treatment; their faces are smeared in dripping black paint.
Yet Pensato's emotions are hard to distinguish. Her work is not just a distant experiment of rendering a kitsch subject matter in an artsy medium, she is far too close to the subjects. The gallery space itself is strewn with now-tattered toys, chewed up and spit out by Pensato's dog. For these objects and paintings, the cartoonishness is gone and they are possessed instead by something far darker.
"Batman Returns" will show at Friedrich Petzel Gallery in New York until February 25.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled Pensato's last name as Pensalo.