Out of the Blue, Into the Black by Dan Colen is a eulogy in three parts comprising paintings, installation, and a sculpture. Ancestral Figure is a convergence of four artists - Walker Evans, Sherrie Levine, Roe Ethridge, and Mark Grotjahn - in their respective responses to the ritual object as inspiration, referent, index, and collectible of mysterious allure.
Gagosian Gallery is pleased to announce Dan Colen's first solo exhibition in Paris. “Out of the Blue, Into the Black” is a eulogy in three parts comprising paintings, installation, and a sculpture.
The title conflates two songs that open and close Neil Young’s 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps: “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", with its famous line “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” which Young wrote in reference to his personal fears of becoming obsolete and, correspondingly, to the then-recent deaths of Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious, and which was invoked many years later by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note. Similarly, Colen has used the lyrics here to evoke a fear of the erosion of influence, to point to the ways in which death inflects celebration, and to remind us of what we try to hold on to, even as it eludes our grasp.
Colen began making “confetti” paintings in the wake of his friend Dash Snow’s death in 2009. Like the ancient pagan custom of throwing confetti at celebratory events, the paintings are exercises in the precious yet momentary qualities of joy and magic. The confetti paintings exist both as actual Mylar confetti adhered to canvas, and, in this instance, as trompe l’oeil oil paintings. To date, Colen has used trompe l’oeil not only to simulate, but also to elucidate the absurdity and inadequacy of illusion. The memorial quality of this series is underscored by its title, “Moments Like This Never Last," which Colen took from Snow, who borrowed it from the Misfits for his second solo exhibition in New York in 2005.
The installation in the gallery recalls the NEST projects that Colen made with Snow by shredding phone books and tearing open feather pillows to create orgiastic environments. But here the playful, boisterous concept takes a dark and morbid turn. The space, tarred and feathered from top to bottom, becomes a stand-in for the body on which pain and humiliation is inflicted by the vernacular mob tradition. Thus the exuberant life and gleeful tumult of the nests is stilled forever, and the viewer is left enveloped in a space where the once whirling feathers and leaves of paper are stuck fast to viscous, tar-blackened surfaces, like a bird trapped in a lethal oil slick.
In the sculpture, My Old Friend the Blues, Colen creates a tumbledown-crackup shrine, ambiguous and self-consciously clumsy in its purpose. The “enshrined” object is a sagging cluster of beat-up, blue bicycle parts scavenged from the streets of New York City. These chained-up, forgotten bicycles have become so fused to the urban streetscape as to go unnoticed—that is, until they are cut free and brought back as art, their color denoting the inevitable return of melancholy. Thus, by embracing the latent power of materials and their ambivalent effects, Colen enacts for his own time an inherited belief, tempered with skepticism, in the redemptive and transformative processes by which art can be wrought from the disenfranchised and overlooked.
Dan Colen was born in New Jersey in 1979. He graduated with a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2001. Exhibitions include the 2006 Whitney Biennial, New York; "USA Today," The Royal Academy, London (2006); "Defamation of Character," PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island, New York (2006); "Fantastic Politics," The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo (2006); "Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection," The New Museum, New York (2010); "Peanuts," Astrup Fearnley (2011); and "In Living Color," the FLAG Art Foundation, New York (on view until May 19, 2012).
Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present “Ancestral Figure,” a convergence of four artists—Walker Evans, Sherrie Levine, Roe Ethridge, and Mark Grotjahn—in their respective responses to the ritual object as inspiration, referent, index, and collectible of mysterious allure.
The title is from a photograph by Walker Evans: Ancestral figure [Reliquary figure]. It is one image among the hundreds that comprise the vast educational portfolio that Alfred H. Barr Jr. commissioned to document the groundbreaking exhibition "African Negro Art" at the Museum of Modern Art in 1935. The exhibition brought together an unprecedented number of African sculptures from institutional and private collections and is said to have broadened the Western study and taste for African art. It applauded African art on purely esthetic terms, and thus reinforced the direct visual appropriation of such forms by Western artists. For Evans this commission was a turning point in his career.
Evans's project helped form the aesthetic criteria and the method by which African art was studied for decades. So seamlessly did he link the diverse subjects to his detailed and powerful representations of them that the status of the photographs as photographs was minimized, and subsequently they were viewed more as surrogates for the sculptures themselves. Probing the relationship thus established between the original object of ritual and its aesthetic corollary, Levine, Ethridge and Grotjahn seek to locate the flashpoint at which the art-historical, anthropological or sociological realities of the original artifact end, and a new independent vision begins.
In the Makonde Body Masks, Sherrie Levine blatantly transforms social and cultural function into pure aesthetic value. These distinctive body masks, which represent the torsos of pregnant women, are a stunning cultural paradox used by pubescent boys to enact the rite de passage from childhood to adulthood. By casting this highly collectible tribal artifact in gleaming bronze, she simultaneously doubles and collapses its impact as cultural fetish in the most traditional syntax of contemporary sculpture.
Ethridge’s reductive mappings of African masks are the most direct response to Evans’s carefully stylized visualizations. Recently commissioned to document an important private art collection, he was strongly attracted by a series of African masks displayed among the modern masterpieces. While Evans made the essence of his subjects palpable through detailed and artful observation, Ethridge inverts and obfuscates, focusing on the anonymous roughly carved reverse of each mask, then reducing his frame to the schematic facial features. His choice to print the photos on a scale that immediately suggests an association with abstract painting further agitates traditional hierarchies of value.
With bronze sculptures, cast from spontaneous cardboard assemblages and painted, often with the fingers, Mark Grotjahn dares to inhabit and enact the inspirative relationship between the early modernists and African and Oceanic sources. And while, like his predecessors, from Picasso to Ernst, he establishes an aesthetic remove from his referents via the processes of fabrication and production, his sculptures manifest both an undeniable primal intensity as well as a sophisticated yet endearing appeal.
Spanning several generations, each artist in "Ancestral Figure" intuitively interrogates the gradually deteriorating definitions of medium, authenticity, and originality as signifiers of value, looking to pinpoint ecstatic moments of multivalent complexity.
Opening reception for the artist: Sunday, June 10th, from 11:00 to 1:30pm
Claudine Colin Communication
Contact: Dorelia Baird-Smith
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