Friday, June 20, 2008

On "Who's Afraid of Jasper Johns?"

A show conceived by Urs Fischer & Gavin Brown
Tony Shafrazi Gallery, 544 W. 26th Street, NYC
May 9 - July 12, 2008

A comment on a New York Magazine review of the show.

I like art that delivers a "kick in the shins", but reject the thesis that "all art stems from iconoclasm" as simplistic. The bad boy, kill-the-father strain is obvious, audacious, testosterone-induced, and rules the moment (Hirst, Koh, Lowman, Colen), but there is also something to be said for contemplation, stillness, centering and wholeness. These quieter inspirations form a basis for Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Arte Povera and a number of other historically-labeled schools that provide fodder for contemporary praxis.

What I like about Nauman, Smithson and Acconci, for example, is the way they combine a contemplative pose with audacity of execution and content. Unfortunately, many of their descendants just seem to be making noise to advance their careers: to be noticed and purchased.

re: Shafrazi's gesture. I've heard it was done as a Vietnam War protest, but in 1974 this seems a bit late. The US was already pulling out troops, Nixon was embroiled in Watergate and close to resigning. Spraying "Guernica" seems to resonate in a tighter context, centered within the art world. From self aggrandizement even. Would love to hear from Shafrazi on this.

The show, meanwhile, is a gentle roasting by a new generation of bad boy dealers and artists who lovingly mock Shafrazi while fully identifying with his ambition and persona. Pruitt's "Viagra Falls" refers to his continued model hunting at fashionable boites, despite advancing years -- yet it is coupled by an eternal Bic lighter flame at the end of the show, a dash of reverence to leaven the ribald jeering. Similarly, the placing of "real" work above the trompe l'oeil wallpaper of the previous installation is a "tagging" of the gallery, an irreverent intervention. Yet the choice of work includes paintings that Shafrazi previously dealt, plus art objects that focus our attention on issues of context, display, interpretation and other vagaries of the white cube of art history.

That said, the show packs a real retinal wallop and a metaphysical mindfuck. It is possibly the most fun you can have in a NY gallery this summer. "Criminal mischief" indeed!


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