Underground Pop, an exhibition of 35 works by ten artists who represent a quirky, personal, and idiosyncratically generational take on the Pop tradition of appropriating popular culture in the service of art will open at the Parrish Art Museum August 15, 2010, and remain on view through October 3. Organized by the Museum's Los Angeles-based Adjunct Curator David Pagel, Underground Pop focuses on work that draws on both the mass-market iconography of Pop and the handcrafted, low-tech aesthetic of Folk Art.
The artists in the exhibition-Scott Anderson, Brian Bess, Cole Case, James Gobel, Glenn Goldberg, Leia Jervert, Michael Lazarus, Nathan Mabry, Kristen Morgin, and Jeni Spota-are based in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. What ties them together, according to exhibition curator David Pagel, is "Do-it-yourself ingenuity, stubborn individualism, and stand-alone defiance. All of these artists infuse the ready accessibility of Pop Art with a strong dose of skepticism... The works in Underground Pop come somewhere between the homespun, homegrown, almost hokey earnestness of good old-fashioned Americana and the hands-off, post-industrial cool of American Pop."
The artists in Underground Pop explore their themes in a variety of materials and imagery, taking something of an almost eccentric approach to the traditional understanding of mainstream Pop. James Gobel (San Francisco), for example, uses not only paint but felt, yarn, and fabric-materials usually associated with homemade handicrafts-to create humorous portraits, inspired by gay subculture, that focus mainly on portly and hairy men, or "bears." Leia Jervert (Los Angeles) creates mixed media sculptures using a variety of materials. Her but me you have forgotten, 2009, is a wreath constructed from floral foam, foam putty, wire, paper, wax, balsa and mahogany craft wood, and Veloure paper. Her work is at once elegant, witty, mysterious, and extravagant.
Coats of arms and ornamental patterns derived from Italian ecclesiastical architecture appear in the paintings of Jeni Spota (Los Angeles), whose Flag, 2009, an inevitable homage to Jasper Johns, applies strips of canvas marked with repeated quatrefoils to define the horizontal stripes. Another Los Angeles artist, Cole Case, depicts simple scenes and settings devoid of people: a sunlit tabletop at an old-fashioned Mexican restaurant, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery under a rain-cleared sky, the spotlit stage at the Hollywood Bowl. His application of paint, however, varies from turpentine-thinned colors that drip down the canvas to pigment troweled on as thickly as mortar.
Scott Anderson (Chicago) has written, "The subject matter in my work reflects my deep fascination of hero worship, cults, ritualistic behavior, utopias, and other systems designed by human kind to provide a culture with greater purpose." He uses a patchwork of approaches and techniques, from memory to photo-based source material, to establish a space and then populate it "with only a marginal regard for logic, the known laws of physics, or purity of painterly approach, siding instead with loosely ordered chaos, and the uncanny." His painting, Portage (2008), has elements of a campsite-a beached canoe, a tent-juxtaposed with trees that resemble flagpoles and other inexplicable items.
The work of Brian Bress (Los Angeles) takes viewers back to a time before the internet made instantaneous communication the norm. His videos use homemade costumes and props, unpolished acting, and earnest, pedestrian dialogue. His 19-minute video Status Report, 2009 is a vaudevillian dark comedy with slapstick elements that develops around several figures, all portrayed by Bress, including a boxer punching against his bedroom wall and an astronaut traveling through space in a cardboard box. At times grotesque, these short sketches are edited in a broken narrative that shows the isolated characters eventually invading each others' spaces.
Glenn Goldberg (New York) paints birds and flowers that "are bright accumulations of colorful pointillist dots that bring to mind both samplers and mandalas," according to New York Times critic Holland Cotter. Goldberg's work is whimsical, poetic, meticulous, even romantic. Michael Lazarus (Brooklyn), creates complex and layered collages that contain symmetrically carved smiley faces, skulls, serpents, mirrors, and geometric prisms. They are precisely painted with vibrant colors and collaged with flesh tones excised from skin magazines, photographs of congested city scenes, and natural landscapes.
Kristen Morgin (Los Angeles) uses a mixture of clay, cement, and glue applied over armatures of wood and wire to create true-to-scale objects that appear to be in a late stage of decomposition. A skilled ceramicist, Morgin achieves sophisticated textures and exceptional complexity while avoiding the refined perfection often associated with ceramics. Her Mighty Mouse (2009) combines a heroic pose with a comically disfigured face and a bloated torso mounted on a base of wood scraps. Sculptor Nathan Mabry (Los Angeles) employs latex masks, some of them frightening, that he slips over venerable sculptures before casting them in bronze. He recently purchased a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall bronze re-creation of Rodin's Thinker with strangely exaggerated features. "I will be putting a mask on it to create a pastiche of a pastiche," Marby explains.
Though they don't constitute a full-blown movement, the artists in Underground Pop celebrate the freedom represented by Pop at its best and the joy of amateurism, which is reflected in their funky, out-of-synch paintings, eccentric, hand-crafted sculptures, and inventive, low-tech videos. According to Pagel, "They go out of their way to leave room for loose ends and rough edges, for places and spaces where desire is not instantly gratified but satisfied more slowly, with viewers actively engaged with its hands-on manufacture, its piecemeal production, and its tentative, propositional unfinishedness."