Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mystery, Mischief and Meanness

Keith Haring

Thornton Dial

Jimmy Baker

Bunky Echo-Hawk

Tony Dotson

It's an incredible time in this part of the world to love art: five great shows are opening within a span of two weeks, in Indiana and Ohio. Each of the artists are incredibly different in what they do and who they are, and yet their works have a sort of commonality: a seriousness that is tempered with humor and electrified by mystery, mischief and meanness. 

Thornton Dial: Hard Truths is a retrospective of an African American "outsider artist" who has become canonized; his paintings and assemblages have a high-art resplendence like Robert Rauschenberg's works, and yet they also have more of a bite to them that allows the subject matter to be go mythic but stay intimate: a disheveled household becomes the end of the world, a plastic doll gets smothered in love and paint, raw sad objects and new ways of seeing them get swept up in the flood of Dial's persistence and joy. Opens February 25, 2011 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Keith Haring: 1978 - 1982 and Jimmy Baker: Remote Viewing  are two exhibits opening at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati February 25, 2011. They survey two artists' careers in ways that pay homage to youth and ingenuity, optimism and wisdom. The Keith Haring show looks at Haring's early work, and finds a celebration not just of high and low art, but also of spirit and body, innocence and experience. Haring's work is well-known, even a little ubiquitous now, but it's such a pleasure to have the opportunity to go back to where he started and to feel that exuberance of not knowing anything but what you want to do.  Baker's show promises to have that same thrill.  He's at the beginning of his creative output but he has a prowess and promise and a sort of worldly stubbornness in his work, constructed and deconstructed collage-like large oil paintings that blur the oversaturated world of media and information into blissfully creepy nowheres.

Bunky Echo-Hawk: New Works is a show we're doing, featuring Native American artist Bunky Echo-Hawk. He's going to show up on Friday February 25, 2011 and for a couple days paint/perform in the gallery, producing the works that will make up the two-month show. His paintings, music and poetry all revise and re-invigorate the way Native Americans have been represented. He has a sarcastic, clean, clear and Pop-Art-instinctive eye that telegraphs meanings within meanings, while also telling jokes. His performances take away the preciousness of "art gallery" and replace that with "party." And yet the works produced become a part of his constant reinvention of the way we're taught to see. Show opens February 25, 2011.

Tony Dotson: Shock and Awe pushes Dotson's mean-spirited yet innocently and gorgeously streamlined aesehetic into newer and fiercer territories. While you might think Dotson is telling the same joke over and over, he is also stubbornly dedicated to allowing that one joke to splinter into hot little sparks that burn your eyes.  His pictographs, painted on wood usually in bold but somehow placid colors, make you want to laugh not just because they are funny but also because there's truth embedded in each painting's core. And while he wants to eliminate the decorative, Dotson comes up with devious little tableaus that are as pretty as a picturebook. The dangers and shock-values of each painting increase due to his dedication to that simplicity.  Inspired by outsider artists, Dotson's work does not pay attention to that canon as much as parodies the way most people view outsider art, as a sort of "kid's table" of the art world. Dotson wants to make outsider art the "adult's table" feast: a violent, drunken Thanksgiving dinner with John Wayne Gacy at the head of the table, ready to carve the turkey. Show opens March 4, 2011 at Pac Gallery in Cincinnati.