From the Vapor of Gasoline
White Cube (Mason’s Yard)
UNTIL 21st OCTOBER
Jean Michel Basquiat is having a bit of a London moment, and he graciously lends this exhibition its title, having originated from the scrawlings on Peruvian Maid (1985). He also appears in this exhibition with 2 for a dollar (1983).
America is having some self-image problems. It probably needs to go to Thailand, do some Eat, Pray, Love stuff and find itself. This isn’t just a Trump thing, the American Dream has been in jeopardy since Lennie and George never did get to have their own farm. Civil unrest has been growing as the divide between the rich and the poor deepens, driven even deeper by American consumerism – the very building blocks on which the American Dream rests. It’s a divide not totally alien to us here in the U.K.
The result is a band of the most influential artists working today- Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Cady Noland, Richard Prince, Christopher Wool (et al.) disillusioned and cynical as the rest of us, creating works that explore the decline of post-war America. Subverting its own precious symbols- the stars and the strips, cowboys and dollar bills, to deconstruct and challenge the traditional ideologies the USA boasts. The American flag now lies limp over what I thought was a shopping cart bay, but turned out to be a clothes rail attached to a zimmer frame and a shopping basket, in Cady Noland’s Untitled (Walker) (1989). It’s sad, and indicative of a formerly great nation – there are no eagles in the sky.
David Hammons literally ‘kicks the bucket’ in his short colour film ‘Phat Free’, footage of the street performance from 1995. The title alludes to the popular marketing expression ‘fat free’, except he’s cooler than that and uses the 1980s/90’s African American slang ‘phat’. The pun game is real. In fact, many of the artists here use a dark humour to convey uncomfortable truths and expose America’s dark histories- it is more palatable that way. FYI, Freud said that jokes are just the vessel for supressed, latent aggressions and hostilities. Ironically, he once stated that he preferred the audiences in the street to the audiences in art galleries, proclaiming The art audience is the worst audience in the world. It’s overly educated, it’s conservative, it’s out to criticize, not to understand, and it never has any fun. Why should I spend my time playing to that audience? The street audience is much more human, and their opinion is from the heart. They don’t have any reason to play games; there’s nothing gained or lost.(Hammons in Jones 2006, p.242.).
We are the worst, aren’t we.