Sunday, November 1, 2015

KAWS, Karl Wirsum & Tomoo Gokita at Newcomb

If your craving for things dark and creepy hasn't  been satiated by Halloween, you might want to drop by the Newcomb Art Museum and see some surprisingly spooky art while burnishing your credentials as an aesthete. Despite its civilized, contemporary veneer, this Shared Space show, curated by Monica Ramirez-Montagut, exudes a dark aura that harks to the excesses of pop culture, expressionism and technology. Indeed, some of the figures suggest the sorts of mutations that might have been spawned at Disneyworld in the wake of an atomic apocalypse. For instance, New York artist KAWS' 16 foot tall sculpture, Companion, is rather like a monstrous mutant Mickey Mouse holding his head in his hands as if mourning the demise of childhood. Or maybe he's just suffering from a form of digital dementia brought about by acute Photoshop poisoning.

Digital technology allows everyone to modify everything at will for good or ill, but the early 1960s art movement known as Chicago Imagism presaged many of the more extravagant exaggerations that now characterize all things digital. Its influence continues today in founding member Karl Wirsum's  alluring painted freak shows--in works like his hypnotically demonic fever dream, Throw a Wait Line Proof of Purse Chase, top left. Just what is it about those Chicago redheads, anyway? Scary stuff. If Wirsum takes his cues from the art of the insane, Tomoo Gokita came to sex and horror naturally as the son of the editor of the Japanese edition of Playboy magazine. Maybe its food coloring-hued skin tones and airbrushed body parts caused him to rebel into a realm of black and white anatomical grotesquerie. Speechless depicts a couple posed in a casual embrace. Their flashy demeanor reflects the assertively affluent hedonism long championed by Playboy--except, of course, for the deep, dark voids where their heads should be. Playboy was born in Chicago almost simultaneously with the Imagist movement. Playboy no longer features nude photos, but the legacy of Chicago Imagism lives on. ~Bookhardt / A Shared Space: Kaws, Karl Wirsum and Tomoo Gokita, Through Jan. 3, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.