Last chance to see Robert Melee’s elderly mother — drunk, naked, and caked in make-up — in A Dozen Roses at Higher Pictures gallery. The twelve photographs in the small exhibit showcase the artist’s mother, Rose, in staged shoots made between 1993 and 2004 and shown in various multimedia installations since then. Her greatest hits, if you will.
It’s unknown whether or not the real Rose is the witchy wretch she appears to be in these images, in the grips of a meltdown, stumbling around sans skirt or pants, and wearing enough hastily applied cosmetics to put a drag queen to shame. As she’s only on gallery walls, the point is rather moot. However, Melee — who’s often compared to John Waters or Andy Warhol — routinely recruits Rose to appear at his raucous openings. Here’s how the art critic Jerry Saltz described one such opening in 2002 for The Village Voice:
On the night of Melee’s opening, his show was guarded by a gorgon, and the gorgon was Mom. You had to get by her to see the rest of the exhibition, which wasn’t so easy. With thick rings painted around each eye, her face caked in pancake makeup, and hair out to here, Mumsy was a cross between Divine, a Kabuki demon and a witchy Liz Taylor. Mrs. Melee sat on a folding chair in a large raised glass box, wearing only fishnet pantyhose and a feather boa. She peered over the crowd, smoked, drank beer, and, startlingly, exposed her breasts or stood up to show that she wore no panties under her panty hose. She was all the freaks Diane Arbus ever photographed as seen by Francis Bacon. It was amazing, it was sick, and to top it all off, the artist says you can rent Mom for $6,000 an hour and “do anything you want to her.”
A Dozen Roses, through August 1, 2014, Higher Pictures, 980 Madison Avenue, NYC