Two Art Shows for Our Era
There are two art shows in Chelsea at this moment that everyone should see. Stylistically, they couldn’t be more dissimilar; thematically, they share a dark vision; technically, each artist has viscerally stunning command of his own individual style. The more sacrilegious of the two is Aaron Johnson’s exhibit at the Stefan Stux Gallery. With a brightly colorful, in-your-face approach that draws equally on 60s psychedelic illustration and classical Chinese iconography, his minutely layered multimedia acrylic-on-oil collages take gleeful pleasure in pillorying the axis of evil between Christian extremists and the right wing.
A soldier dog defecates in a prostrate Jesus’ mouth as the two ride the barrel of an army tank; Babe the Blue Ox is about to get even with a twisted Paul Bunyan; Michelle Bachman devours a barbecued Obama as she enjoys dinner with grotesquely cartoonish Clintons, Newt Gingrich and others, with Sarah Palin the harpy buzzing overhead. Elsewhere, the Statue of Liberty gives Jesus a blowjob, hamburgers and hot dogs attack those who’d devour them, and Jesus (or is it St. Peter) is crucified upside down, a nail through his penis. These are just several of the literally thousands of details in Johnson’s works, apropos now but with equal historical value for the future, that is, if art like this is still legal after the 2012 election.
At the Marlborough Galley in Chelsea, Vincent Desiderio’s latest exhibit goes for a more global appeal, but one that’s equally cynical, pessimistic, and symbolically charged – and also great fun if you pay attention. His large, imposing, intense oils unassumingly demonstrate a magisterial old-masters technique, yet both his brush and trowel serve to make a point or simply evince the most impactful shades of light and shadow rather than being an ostentatious display of chops. The largest and most cruelly ironic is the burial of a woman in the woods, in later winter or early spring, in frontier America – the title references “fecundity.” Blurred, diabolical expressions occupy the faces of the mentally retarded men walking past a medieval marble garden (it’s a parody – first person to identify the original wins a prize). Another equally twisted and entertaining spoof turns a well-known John Singer Sargent image into a casually oversexed mongoloid. More retards stare zombie-faced from one imposing oil, wrestle half-naked in another.
A woman’s corpse lies in a coffin doing double duty as a sink, a la the Shining, in a tremendously vivid, green-tinted photorealistic tableau. Another corpse, this one decayed and wrapped head-to-toe in grey body tape, uses a digital camera to take a photo of a Renaissance-era child with mongoloid features. Paint peels from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel roof as disembodied, toothsome mouths roar from the side walls. The artist himself looks up somewhat triumphantly from the bottom of a surreal stairwell, “after Orozco.” The most utterly chilling, least subtle of all of these is a skewed side view of a pirate ship titled Horizon, a black-caped skeleton shaded in the murk of the ship’s sails. And that uncharacteristically blithe woman in the wedding dress? That’s a self-portrait – Desiderio’s Mona Lisa! Until each of these artists gets his MOMA retrospective, these are shows to remember for years.
Johnson’s show is up through at the Stefan Stux Gallery, 530 W 25th St. through October 22. Hours are Tues-Sat 11-6 and by appointment . Desiderio’s, at the Marlborough Gallery, 545 W 25th St., runs through October 15. Gallery hours are Tues-Sat, 10-5:30.