These paintings on shaped canvas and colored-pencil drawings on black paper, churned out with rapturous irony between 1978 and 1982, depict pensive sci-fi heroines and unsmiling models floating above catastrophes. Skyscrapers fall, the earth splits, and barrels of nuclear waste threaten tract houses in Cooling’s doomsday scenes. The same lurid colors and kitschy pleasures suffuse a wonderful series portraying female lovers surrounded by cattails and reindeer. There are echoes of the Chicago Imagists’ Pop surrealism here (the artist attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before she moved to New York), but mostly this body of work finds Cooling engaging with queer figuration as both a personal expression and a mode of critique at the dawn of the Reagan era and the AIDS crisis. Desire and ruin are equal forces in works such as “Apocalypse,” from 1982, in which a giant woman’s blue face is framed by a city on fire.
— Johanna Fateman
Janet Cooling in The New Yorker