Contemporary Capitalist Guernica

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At the top of the most white box of white box galleries, the New Museum has a construction of paintings that shows the visual power of Jim Shaw. My comments here will address Labyrinth: I Dreamt I was Taller than Jonathan Borofsky (2009), which fills the top floor space with a diorama-like installation of paintings.

The work is packed with art historical references, none more potent than Guernica. The whole work looked to me like a comic book contemporary capitalist guernica, what happens when good business usurps morality and human well-being.  The satisfying twist to this work of sincere paranoia (conspiracy theory runs throughout the imagery) is the depiction of traditional figures of power.  Used to being masters of their domain, the suited men of society Shaw portrays are the doomed servants of the system they operate.  Through Shaw’s twisted lense the invisible hand of the market is played by extraterrestrial creatures, visceral, gross and malignant.  The embodied economic overlords, always dubiously dubbed virtuous, suck, drown and grind lots of white guys into comic book endings.

I found these as satisfying a capitalist critique as I’ve seen, certainly better and more effective than the one-note punchlines of Banksy or Shepard Fairey’s visual sermons. The art historical references worked well in the workmanlike painting style, a blown up comic book aesthetic.  The sole exception being the reference to Goya’s Disasters of War series, which can not be improved upon for their horror-inducing character.

A few other notes I took included the clever use of Mr Fantastic as a metaphor for overstretched American military power with many Dr. Doom’s popping up across the world and drones only making the overstretching even more perilous. There’s also a bunch of Led Zeppelin references. Something for everybody. Unless you love capitalism’s downside and imperial military power, then this may not be for you.  It closes this weekend in any case.

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