Exhibitions take 2.

Justin Craun

12 October – 25 November 2007

Craun’s work depicts seemingly familiar everyday subjects; these are then rendered in dense optical arrangements that are at once vivid and illusory. The paintings employ an irregular sense of composition, riffled and pitted surfaces, oscillating colour and saturation. Craun’s latest take on American society is focused on the ‘team’, the ‘cheerleader’ and the ‘family’. Idiosyncratic cornerstones of a North American values franchise. Craun’s paintings subvert the brand whilst simultaneously knitting together jarring colour schemes, skewed geometric abstraction and patinated texture.

His drawings employ razor-sharp line work, luminous washes and concentrated areas of broken patterning. He locates the figures in spaces that are simultaneously flat and three-dimensional. Depicted with equal parts humor and dread, Craun’s work is quotidian, disturbing and rich in a dislocated vocabulary of mark making.

The curation of the work provokes these feelings exactly. Only negative aspect of the work is the lightening which distracts the viewer from full appreciating the work; taking away the vivid and illusory.  


OBEY [Shephard Fairley]  Stolen Space

Arch manipulator, scoundrel, chief propagandist, provocateur, Shepard Fairey is the man many hail as the originator of the modern urban art scene and is an undeniable phenomenon. First coming to prominence in 1989 with his now ubiquitous ‘Obey Giant’ sticker campaign, the self styled phenomenologist has since gone on to become one of the most recognisable artists of the early 2000’s.

His work, a mixture of parody and protest, serves to subvert the very medium to which it attaches itself. Wall paper posters adorn advertising billboards that in his own words ‘market nothingness’ while large scale posters with the simple one word message ‘obey’ stir the bewildered masses. His unique use of stencils, collage, photography and painting have led to collaborations with among others, DJ Shadow, Interpol, Smashing Pumpkins and more recently the poster art for the Johnny Cash biopic, ‘Walk the Line’.

In more than a passing reference to the surveillance culture of Orwell’s 1984, Shepard Fairey brings his new exhibition ‘NineteenEightyFouria’ to London’s Stolenspace. Comprised of a range of artworks, from large scale multi media installations to smaller album screen prints Shepard’s artwork both scrutinises and distorts the narrative of the modern American Dream. Commenting on underpinnings of what Shepard terms the ‘capitalist machine’ it aims to critique those who support blind nationalism and war. Fairey addresses monolithic institutional authority, the role of counter culture, and independent individuals who question the cultural paradigm which is reflected in the careful choosing of site specific exhibition of Stolen Space.



DRAWING RESTRAINS The Serpentine Gallery, LondonTaking in sculpture, installation, performance, drawings and film, the show centres on Drawing Restraint, a multimedia series that Barney began in 1987. In particular, the show relates to Barney’s film Drawing Restraint 9, which he made two years ago with his partner, and equal in imaginative idiosyncrasy, Icelandic avant-pop queen Björk. The couple play visitors on a Japanese whaling ship, the Nisshin Maru, who end up ritually carving each other’s bodies into chunks of blubber. Marine matter finds its way into the related sculptures too, barely describable hybrid objects that brazenly confound the traditional canon of workable materials. Any initial description of Barney’s work risks looking like a hoax, spoofing the perceived excesses of the blockbuster avant-garde. That’s why his creations have to be seen to be believed: their unorthodox visual and tactile impact speaks for itself. It’s true that Barney’s output, tempered with grotesque humour, could be regarded as partly a joke in the Dada tradition: the matter-of-factness with which he expounds his quasi-scientific systems certainly suggests a sly parody of theoretical discourse in art.  Nearly all Barney’s commentaries are in this oracular mode, yet their earnestly systematic nature suggests that he’s serious about them, and inviting us to take them seriously too. Many rise to the challenge: over a decade, “Barneyology” has effectively become a specialist field of modern art theory. Most critics, however, are happy to throw in the towel and exhort viewers simply to revel in the work’s multi-layered exuberance.  Physicality is central to Barney’s work, which involves considerable feats of athletic daring: Cremaster 3, for example, is structured around his twin ascents of a lift shaft in the Chrysler Building and of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The Drawing Restraint series began as a set of performances in which Barney encumbered himself with weights, harnesses and elastic to make the act of drawing physically difficult. The wildly disparate elements in Barney’s universe combine to make a vast but inscrutable mythology that can really only be decoded imaginatively from within, once you immerse yourself in its mad resonances. Its parameters take in high culture and pop (pastiche grand opera at one end, speed metal and country at the other), a murky brew of belief systems (Celtic creation myths, freemasonry, Mormon, Brazilian candomblé), a fascination with androgyny, asexual reproduction, metamorphosis, drag. Barney uses places and people too as material, as “found objects”: buildings such as the Guggenheim or Budapest’s Opera House; locations including the Isle of Man and the Utah salt flats; names such as Ursula Andress, Norman Mailer, sculptor Richard Serra, all guest stars in the Cremaster cycle. Barney’s pseudo-narratives thrive on arbitrary geographical, historical and thematic connections, which generate visual and conceptual “rhymes”.  It’s hard to trace obvious sources for Barney’s imagination, although he has cited Joseph Beuys and Bruce Nauman as influences. While he is often compared to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, the closest affinity among contemporaries – in terms of elaborating quasi-scientific thought systems – is Britain’s self-deprecatingly boffinish Keith Tyson.  Drawing Restraint 9 presents itself rather like the couple’s lyrical, orgiastic love ritual: if Cremaster has been called Barney’s Ring cycle, then the new film is his Tristan and Isolde. The pair rarely comment on their relationship, but Björk has volunteered that working from Barney’s laconic directions was “like solving a murder mystery”. She has also commented, in typically Björkian style, “He’s a bit of a submarine.”  Since Cremaster, Barney’s megastar status has led some critics to decry bombast, while it’s undeniable that his shock value has been slightly dampened by familiarity. At the recent Manchester International Festival, there was a decidedly mixed press response to Barney’s segment of the performance “variety” show Il Tempo del Postino. Featuring cars, a bull, a female contortionist and Barney wearing a live dog on his head, it caused many UK critics to sniff, although an enthusiastic Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph saw the piece as “about nothing less than the psycho-sexual origins of Islamic fundamentalism”. As for Barney’s film-making, it must be said that Drawing Restraint 9 has a tone of laborious solemnity that is considerably less alluring than Cremaster’s delirious efflorescence. Even so, the prospect of a new full-scale exhibition, of seeing Barney’s objects first hand in all their monumental opacity, is hugely exciting. Whether or not you’re familiar with Barney’s work, chances are that you’ll still come away with a sense of mystery left decisively intact. That’s as it should be. As the elusive artist has put it, “I try to protect myself and my work. I want there to be a fraction of my work that even I don’t understand.”    


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