Dan Colen: Sweet Liberty
Newport Street Gallery
UNTIL 21st JANUARY
The latest at Newport Street Gallery is an exhibition spanning 15 years of works (including some brand new stuff) from American artist Dan Colen…not that you would’ve guessed he was American from the gigantic American flag overtaking the first room, The Big Kahuna (2010–17). It may be sizeable, but it’s crumpled and dirty. The flagpole is knackered and bent…. and there’s a gigantic 20-ton slab of concrete weighing the whole thing down. I don’t think the message is lost on anyone. Behind it hangs Me, Jesus and the Children (2001–2003). A photorealistic painting of a mans chest with Disney-esque cherubs, started just days after the 9/11 attacks. A lot has changed since then.
The exhibition follows the natural trajectory of his work, and on the whole serves as a portrait of contemporary America through the lens of globalized mass media imagery. Cutouts of all-American cartoon characters smashing through the walls of the galleries lays testament to this continuity, and allows the viewer to see where they’ve come from and where they’re going. These ‘holes in the wall’ provide a huge arena for thought via negative space; the empty shell left behind from the bodies that travelled through them, brickwork exposed. The walls aren’t so solid after all.
Scooby Doo, Haiku (2015–2017), hangs listlessly in the second room, empty bottles and cigarette butts litter the ground behind him, transporting a fantasy character into cold hard reality. Roger Rabbit and Wile E. Coyote are collapsed on the floor of the last room. And Wile E. does not look happy. I suspect it was these meddling kids who smashed through the walls of the gallery, so they must be tired…and I don’t think they ever caught what they were chasing.
But as fun as these Cartoon Network cameos are, the best works come in the form of his slogan paintings: RAMA LAMA DING DONG. GET HIGH. Sha na na…hey hey.
As usual, the Newport Street Gallery plays perfect host to a show like this- by which I mean, it’s not an exhibition family friendly enough for big institutions (because as you’ll see if you scroll down, naked Dan Colen makes an appearance) but still requires the big, dynamic space that Newport Street provides. Not to mention the kind of anything-is-possible mentality that only another artist can have. The Big Kahuna , for example, was only rendered possible due to the size and weight NSG can take- logistical issues had stopped it from coming to fruition in the past when he came up with the idea in 2010.
Both the Big Kahuna and naked Dan himself Livin’ and Dyin’ (2012-2013) act as a self-portrait of the artist. One may be a little more obvious than the other, but both portray an overblown ego indicative of the American Dream, or the fragility of it.
But does it have the gum paintings? Yes, and they smell so good.
P.S. Damien, I don’t want to be a bore but all five shows so far at NSG have been white male artists (I’m guessing all mates of yours) – any chance of changing the record?