Sunday, December 6, 2009

Skylar Fein at NOMA

     Best known for his searingly evocative REMEMBER THE UPSTAIRS LOUNGE installation at the Prospect.1 Biennial last year, Skylar Fein turns his attention to punk rock in this YOUTH MANIFESTO show at NOMA. Again there are realistic trappings and graphic documentation, but the subjects couldn't be more different. The Upstairs Lounge was an obscure gay bar that caught fire under mysterious circumstances in 1971, killing at least 32 trapped patrons, whereas punk was an example of a cultural movement that began as a youthful rebellion and rapidly morphed into a marketing sensation of sorts. If the Upstairs Lounge was a colorful yet profoundly tragic place, punk rock became a postmodern echo chamber as it was subsumed into the culture that it once rebelled against, rendering it a mass mediated hall of mirrors--an electronic mirage rather than a fiery flameout. Consequently, where the UPSTAIRS LOUNGE exhibit was gut-wrenchingly elegiac, this YOUTH MANIFESTO show is ironically nostalgic.

Punk’s visual legacy is a wide array of memorabilia that Fein replicates in his artfully playful style, with iconic groups like the Clash, Adam and the Ants and Husker Du all turning up in outsized replicas of ticket stubs, posters and t-shirts. There’s even a Cyndy Lauper poster paired with a Cyndi Lauper bedsheet, above, amid sculptural recreations of 1980s boom boxes and guitar amps. The result is a recreation of the flip side of the Reagan era, an unusually taxonomic celebration of a familiar yet distant time. And if it lacks the searing punch of the Upstairs Lounge project, it does at least inject a new perspective into the eclectic mix of NOMA’s galleries, setting off such oddities as Henry Darger’s expressionistic child-world panorama, HURRY, IT’LL EXPLODE ANY MINUTE NOW, Allan McCollum’s 25 PERFECT VEHICLES display case of striped burial urns, and Mel Chin’s I DON’T WANT TO silver tray fringed with Mayan gods and Belizian flint ceremonial blades, all of which convey something of the eternal, prickly, underlying spirit of punk.  

YOUTH MANIFESTO: Graphics, Sculpture and Videos by Skylar Fein
Through Jan. 3
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org 

As seen in Gambit