Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Rivoli, Italy
Investigating international art trends of the last decade, this exhibition seeks to shed light on a common trait in recent art, a trait which the show’s curator Jeffrey Deitch locates in the artists’ desire to work in an intermediate zone between reality and fiction.
This fictional character of the works, which manifests itself in numerous different ways, undoubtedly reflects an increasingly pervasive aspect of reality itself that finds its confirmation in even the most ordinary moments of our daily experience.
In other words, it is in our own lives that we experience the ever-closer link between reality and fiction. We only have to think of the powers of simulation wielded by the mass media, in such a way that news bulletins, which supposedly present us with the facts, have now become indistinguishable from TV drama series, replacing reality with a perfectly plausible realism.
As examples of this trend we might cite recent military conflicts from the Gulf War to the bombardment of Belgrade, not to mention the recent appalling terrorist attack on New York, all of which were broadcast world-wide in real time and were perceived by viewers more as spectacular media events than as authentic reportage.
The global diffusion of internet, meanwhile, has not only enabled users to instantly hook themselves up to a 24 hour information network, but has also, through chatrooms and MUDs, given them the habit of virtually inhabiting several different personalities as though they were actors playing multiple roles.
Add to this the field of transgenics, which has already shown itself capable of transforming both our natural environment and the human body, and it becomes clear how fiction now infiltrates reality to the point where the two realms are superimposed and confused.
Even fields such as politics and economics now require a certain dose of spectacle and simulation in order to legitimize themselves in the eyes of the public. Today’s art aims to investigate this increasingly indissoluble bond, no longer considering fiction the negative pole of reality but granting it a more positive role in understanding the real.
The exhibition’s very title, Form Follows Fiction, recalls the celebrated dictum of the American functionalist architect Louis Henry Sullivan, Form Follows Function, which declared the supremacy of utility over formal creativity in architecture, art and design. Today the roles appear to be reversed. According to Deitch,the most significant artists of the past decade have constructed entire aesthetic universes in their works, where there is no longer a clear distinction between real and artificial, existence and spectacle, and it’s for this reason that they provide an incisive comment on the world we live in.
October 21 - December 22, 2017
18 Wooster Street
The faces are melting in Kenny Scharf’s new paintings. “Things are disintegrating,” he says, “I am reacting to our increasingly out-of-control situation.” Scharf’s work continues to be infused by his inexhaustible optimism and his sense of fun but there has always been an engagement with profound issues beneath the façade. Ecology, the environment, and capitalist excess have long been central themes. More recently, his paintings have shown his alarm over the effects of petroleum and the mountains of nondegradable plastic that are produced from it.
Scharf’s work has always combined and contrasted the pop culture he absorbed growing up in Los Angeles with the important innovations in modern and contemporary art. His earlier work fused Dali and Disney. More recently, he has been in dialogue with Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. In the new work, he merges his distinct style with color field and stain painting. “I like to connect with every movement in 20th-century art,” Scharf explains. “I make new hybrids, taking it all in and putting it in a blender.”
A distinctive style is something that Scharf admires in other artists and from the beginning has tried to achieve in his own work. He believes in art as an expression of individual identity. From his first mature work as a student at the School of Visual Arts, a painting by Kenny Scharf was instantly recognizable. Still adhering to his signature style, he continuously invents new forms.
Scharf is very enthusiastic about his new “sloppy style” that characterizes the major paintings in the exhibition. Rows of faces disintegrate into colorful drips reminiscent of both New York School painting and the serial imagery of minimal art. In these new works, Scharf is striving to create clear and simple forms that resonate with meaning. He feels liberated and excited, adding that “it is so much fun.”
The expression of emotion in art is essential to Scharf. Art that is cold leaves him cold. He explains that cartoon faces can express emotion with abstract power. Like his artistic colleagues from his early years in New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Scharf studied cartoons as a way to intensify figurative expression.
It is his early downtown history that brings Scharf back to New York this October. The Museum of Modern Art is opening an exhibition on the seminal performance space Club 57 in which Scharf played a central role. Watching him paint, one can see how his experience as a backup dancer for Klaus Nomi and his other performative roles have shaped his approach to his work. One side of his painting practice is detailed and meticulous to the extreme. The other side is tremendously physical and requires him to use his body like a dancer.
Visitors to Scharf’s Los Angeles studio are greeted by a hundred or more discarded plastic toys in his yard and on his roof. During the early part of his career, Scharf found his art materials in the garbage. To this day, he still stops his car when he finds plastic toys and TV sets thrown away on the street. These discarded plastic objects have inspired the two other bodies of work featured in the show: his Assemblage Vivant Tableaux Plastiques, and his TV Bax. The assemblage works, which are inspired by the Nouveau Realistes, are constructed from his stock of recycled plastic toys. The TV Bax are painted on the plastic backs of discarded television sets. Like the toys, the TV backs have a disconcerting anthropomorphic quality. Scharf wonders if their anonymous designers created these plastic covers, which are different for every model, to resemble a face.
Scharf finds these thrown-away toys and TV backs to be poignant objects, resonant with emotion. “Each of these objects carries a story,” Scharf explains. He thinks about how people might have struggled and sacrificed to buy these toys and TVs, and about the intense relationship that children and families have with them. Scharf resurrects the lives of these inanimate objects in his work. He also notes that garbage keeps changing with technology. The backs of TV sets used to have large protruding “noses.” Now they are flatter and more similar to a canvas.
Since his childhood, Scharf has been fascinated by outer space. Space travel and the portrayal of infinite space have long been central themes. In his life and in his work, he tries to eliminate boundaries and borders. As he pursues his dialogue with the great painters of the New York School, he is increasingly preoccupied with the inner space of painting. His exploration of inner space creates a dynamic tension with his passion for outer space. With his characteristic exuberance and his moral voice, Scharf reformulates his unique combination of Pollock and Pop to create a vibrant new body of work.
Photo Credit: The1point8 and Adam Reich
Read about the Club 57 exhibition at MoMA in the New York Times here.
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