Dalombakipper Retrospective at the

Five Lakes Art and Kitchen Exhibition Space

by August Hollering

    The Hungarian born Ernesto Dalombakipper lived like the bread he grew up eating: heavily yeasted and stuffed with poppy seeds.

    He was flatulent, left most observers with a keen desire to floss (not just their teeth) and was high more often than he wasn’t.

    What was he high on?  Compulsive hostility, seeing his name in the same sentence as “just released from,” deep-fried mothballs, and art in a reeling variety of its most meaningless and gratuitously offensive forms. 

    He relentlessly shined klieg lights on his work while screaming bloody murder at anyone who failed to notice, or who noticed but failed to shower praise on his best efforts, if by “best efforts” you mean “whatever I did when I regained consciousness, or after the second week in rehab,” to which one might credibly add, “whichever came first.”

    He died ten years ago at the age of 42 from a widely pre-publicized overdose of Super Sugar Crisp Hamburger Helper--or edible thongs, depending on whether you believe The New Yorker or Redbook--an event Dalombakipper himself announced as “not planned suicide, just an intermission, and if I can return by Christmas, I hope my credit cards aren’t still maxed out.”

    Needless to say, his work quadrupled in value as soon as Sotheby’s confirmed and time-stamped the coroner’s report.

    Personally, while I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Artist Currently Known As Who?” it’s hard to find even a soupcon of substance in his prolific offerings, which encompassed paintings, drawings, sculpture, grand theft auto, generic antibiotics and Weetabix, as well as the occasional one man show in delirium tremens wards across the upper plains states.

    Critics have remained split on Dalombakipper, considering him either a neo-egotist or a postmodern informal traipser, and I can justify either, or even see him as a subtropical creeper.  In fact, as a critic of modern art I can justify pretty much anything as long as no one is yet willing to admit that the emperor has been naked since somewhere around 1908 and flaunting it since the mid 1950’s.

    Dalombakipper did at times surprise the art world with pencil point-like perception, as in his “Brown Dot on a White Tensile Surface” which some considered executionally ambiguous, as the medium was a microdot of Hershey’s syrup that vanished as soon as it was dropped into a cereal bowl of 2% milk, a form which Dalombakipper himself christened “You-Have-To-Be-There-Or-Never-Mind” art.

    As close observers of le scene will know, I’m not the first to bring the pencil analogy to his accomplishments.

    The noted “Art in America” critic Golda Smythe-Sadatinauer wrote in her rhapsodic preview of the “Dalombakipper: A Step Below Fungus” exhibition at MoMA in 1995, “If art is a pencil then Dalombakipper is a food processor without sides or a rayon petticoat behind a low pressure system approaching rapidly from the west.”

    Hard to argue.

    Indeed, the FLAaKES retrospective, “Art in a Dalombakipper Toilet Bowl,” is a glorious yet barely recognizable toss-up of undesirable leftovers and an industrial stench that overflows from top-floor atrium galleries all the way down to the boiler room, as the show has been inventively organized by Flitzi Schitbilder of the Museum of Bitchin Art in Encino, and Mambo Vegetabile, FLAaKES’s chief curator and senior stainless steel cutlery buyer.

    Dalombakipper’s parents were living in Sostolaposdulo when he entered the world in 1956 on the back of a Russian tank his pregnant mother had climbed onto (thinking the Kremlin was delivering free rations of refrigerated food). 

    His father had a lisp and his mother didn’t, so young Ernesto was never quite sure of the town’s correct pronunciation, which may be why he often claimed Dayton as his birthplace.

    He dropped out of school in his early teens after finishing second in a farfel eating contest, lived in water-fowl communes, smoked celery root, injected hair tonic, snorted soft-shelled crabs, and studied hem lines before attending and then quitting comedy writing school in Switzerland.

    He wanted to be an enema bag (he said he looked “like Anna Wintour on a good day”).  It was only after failing to break into the Rockettes that Dalombakipper turned his focus to art, and the rest is a slow boat to shock therapy. 

    As an artist, he was a thief, a serial liar, and a failed condom salesman, as he was in life. 

    At chic clubs in downtown Cuyahoga Falls he was the darkly whimsical guy who made speeches after everyone had left, picked fights with umbrella stands, and periodically dropped his pants when people asked him for directions to a hospital or an opinion on powdered drink mixes.

    He produced an affliction of self-portraits, almost all of which were actually line drawings of Queen Elizabeth photocopied from the Encyclopedia Britannica and applied to a variety of media, including sutures, sunflower seeds and heavy grade motor oil in poorly conceived chef salads.

    There were exceptions.

    In a 1983 photorealist painting he’s a Genoa salami hanging in a Kosher deli, although the salami is actually a Lego porcupine, a suggestion of his time in a bamboo needle factory shortly before he was exiled from Nánchāng for peddling bok choy as a contraceptive sponge.  (The picture is actually a self-portrait once removed: he stole the entire work from inside a kindergarten window in lower Manhattan and then signed his name to it, a typically antic stab at the establishment).

    We see him a few years later in a photograph as a kind of kvetching anteater wearing a fuzzy hat and riding a leaf blower in what looks like an abandoned felt refinery. 

    This attempt at unifying Picasso, Nazi propaganda, AM and FM radio, the toilet paper aisle in Publix and the entire estranged Bachmeyer family of Kew Gardens is an obvious call for help, or maybe for Indian food to be delivered just after the final question on Jeopardy, but not the spicy kind. 

    He questioned the very notion of abstraction as a transcendent medium by admitting that he didn’t know what “transcendent” meant, and defined “medium” as “not always in the middle, but certainly smaller than extra large.”

    With a series of 1990 paintings comes a change: he no longer even pretends to have his eyes open when he works and often misses the canvas entirely, resulting in the long series of numbered works, “Blank Canvas Over A Messy Floor, But The Floor Is Somewhere Else If You’re Seeing This In A Gallery.”  Dalombakipper called this “art you can’t see but you know it’s somewhere, so stop complaining and buy something before I have to get ugly.”

    He suggested that painting as a form, while useful, was overrated, especially for collecting maple syrup.  To prove his point he bought a poster of the Mona Lisa, nailed it to a sycamore tree, and videotaped himself dancing in circles behind the tree while singing “Who’s Sorry Now?” in a rare dialect of Esperanto. 


    From this point on the line between self-deception and eczema blurs.

    Was the image of the smiling fräulein wearing a strap-on blood sausage in his “How Many Germans Does It Take To Answer The Door?” a send-up, or a blueprint for world domination encoded in pointillist Braille?

    And it’s hard to know what to make of a sculptural portrait of the artist as a small block of compressed burlap under a blanket of pickled salmon that obscures the burlap entirely. 

    Faux cubism?  Or gravlax?

    He showcased his sculptural ineptitude through the 1994 breakthrough debut of his “Schlamazel” sculptures, “Schlamazel” being his term for objects he happened to vomit over while hallucinating.

    The nine dozen or so such sculptures clustered in the show reflect the eclectic dysfunction that made him such a hit in mosh pits and holding cells.  A Tupperware burger-press oozes colorful plasma that may have once been food.  A bottle of nail polish remover is covered in baked beans, or something that looks like them if you look away quickly (recommended).  A Steinway piano becomes ivory on a heap of kindling (his father was killed when accused by a rogue elephant of cheating at pick-up sticks after which a fatal riot ensued). 

    In any case, it’s nice to know that many “Schlamazel’s” were actually made by a longtime Dalombakipper assistant, Timmy the Wonder Chimp, who now has a substantial career of his own.

    Perhaps Dalombakipper is best defined by his recurring demand for the freedom to make no sense whatsoever while claiming the moral high ground mounted on a Thai child prostitute in the fountain at Lincoln Center, a staple he performed whenever the U.N. General Assembly was in session.

    Ultimately, he turned his work into a late-modern self-storage center that doesn’t accept credit cards, complete with infestations of bugs and rats, surly attendants, and fine print designed to fleece all comers.  He filled it with delusional file cabinets of paint-by-ordinal art and ideas he hated or loved and forgot altogether unless he kept his portable chalk board out of the rain: catheters sealed at both ends, booby-trapped handicap parking spaces (who can forget his sly Metrocard collage, “Cripples Slipping on Banana Peels and Screaming in Pain While Joy Behar Laughs”), free-range colonoscopies, Velcro ice-cubes, and grand concepts like farming chopped meat for baleen whales, compassionate decapitation, and strict adherence to Unitarian dogma.

    Sometimes, when I stand on my head and try to juggle feather dusters of varying sizes and weights, I think he might have been on to something. 

    And perhaps he was, or the idea of him was, or his therapist might  have been, or I could overcome my obsession with my own precious meanderings through ideas I make up as I go along and actually make a genuinely meaningful, decipherable statement instead of unforgivably backpedaling in case I have to defend myself later.  So I guess I might as well simply state that Dalombakipper is the model of pretension standing in for substance, all an artist needs to be and do these days to qualify for fawning reviews from established critics, yours truly not so immune as I’d like to think I am.

    Indeed, via the morbidly impenetrable FLAaKES retrospective, a new generation of artists will get to know the Ernesto Dalombakipper who moved Pope Paul to write, “Has anyone seen my Torah?”

    I can imagine more than a few of those aspiring artists reading glowing reviews of this improbable fiasco and choosing to become regional airline co-pilots in northern Afghanistan rather than trying to break into today’s cesspool of unfounded critical perception with anything that can truly be called “art.”

    But then, I predicted Andy Warhol would be cast off as an unremarkable recycler of branded canned product design, so what do I know.

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