Art in the City: Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?

Barry McGee: One More Thing
Deitch Projects

In his show at Deitch Projects, Barry McGee tries to jump the fence between the street and the gallery, and gets stuck halfway. After earning cult status as the graffiti artist “Twist” in the 1980s, McGee has gradually entered the ‘high art’ world by showing his paintings and drawings at progressive museums. A portion of the Deitch show is devoted to McGee’s facile caricatures, which confirm his talent as a draughtsman, but the rest is an attempt to bring the “vitality and chaos of the street” into the gallery. Overturned, smashed trucks fill the space, robotic manikins mime the act of spray-painting the walls and a stack of monitors play footage of taggers. The simulation of street life, particularly the costumed manikins, is so unconvincing that it seems intentionally absurd. Rather than sharing his subculture experiences, McGee must be wryly pointing out the difficulty of being transgressive within the confines of a trendy gallery.

Atomica: Making the Invisible Visible
Esso Gallery and Lombard-Freid Fine Arts

Atomica is a surprisingly restrained exhibition, considering the explosive subject matter. Planned to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this joint show between Esso Gallery and Lombard-Freid addresses the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons. The topic is timely considering North Korea’s recent assertions of nuclear might, and the United States’ lack of commitment to disarmament. The artwork, which the curator Ombretta Agro Andruff predicts will encourage political action, is not exactly rousing. Of the many artists in this show, the older ones seem more willing to grab the bull by the horns; Chris Burden, Leon Golub, Joy Garnett and Nancy Spero employ biting satire or gritty expressionism to convey the seriousness of nuclear warfare. But the younger artists like Shiva Ahmadi and Marguerite Kahrl use ornate, encrypted imagery to allude to conflict. The inevitable defense is, “at least they’re not being didactic,” but it’s difficult to incite action without making a point.


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