On Saturday February 28, 2015, Honor Fraser Gallery opened with an exhibition of new paintings and historical videos presented in installation environments by Kenny Scharf. The show will be on view until April 4, 2015.
The show is wide-ranging, tracing the evolution of Scharf’s diverse artistic practice, while presenting a selection of rarely shown early videos and collages. Also featured is a salon-style installation of paintings from the artist’s new “Born Again” series, in addition to never before exhibited wall-based assemblages. A fully illustrated catalog also accompaies the exhibition.
Though Scharf is best known for his exuberant iconography, his work also contains underlying themes that reflect his ongoing commitment to social and environmental concerns. For Scharf, the embrace of fun is an act of defiance, his considered use of unconventional materials, bright color palette, and playful shapes a protest against restrictive cultural conditions. In his latest body of work, the Born Again paintings, Scharf encapsulates this notion of transforming the mundane by inserting his familiar characters and motifs into found amateur paintings. Akin to his earlier customizations of mass-produced objects like phones, washers, and televisions, here it is the discarded artwork that is repurposed. While still humorously absurdist in tone, some of the works such as FUKISHIMA LANDING and TAR BEACH, with their lurking monsters and dark blobs interrupting peaceful seascapes and nature scenes, also reference the artist’s longstanding themes of anxiety in the nuclear age and the effects of pollution. Also included in this exhibition are the Space Vomit assemblages, where surfaces are embedded with defunct objects, fragments of toys, ads, and other miscellanea collected over the years. Frozen in various states of visual erosion, the surfaces both find inspiration from, and are commentary on the detritus of contemporary American culture.
This exhibition also marks the debut of Scharf’s early videos, made between 1979-1984 and recently digitally transferred and enhanced from their original analog videotape format. Presented in the gallery within multiple set-like installations, the videos were made during the artist’s formative years in the East Village and stand as vital documents of that era’s art scene with collaborations with figures such as Keith Haring and Ann Magnuson. While many are informal sketches and experimental in nature, THE SPARKL END and its sequel CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS demonstrate the first occasions where Scharf began to explore themes that would inform his work for decades: man’s effect on nature and a retro-futuristic vision of the Space Age. Both shown in the recent exhibition Urban Theater: New York Art of the 1980s at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, THE SPARKL END features young partiers who experience nuclear destruction, while CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS shows the surviving revelers who escape peril by leaving for outer space. Accompanying the videos are collages from the same period. Originally intended to be reproduced on Xerox machines and distributed at art shows and across the city, these works on paper contain images appropriated from advertisements and magazines, and were a critical step for Scharf in the development of his iconic, populist vernacular.
Kenny Scharf (b.1958) lives and works in Los Angeles. Honor Fraser Gallery has presented three exhibitions featuring Scharf’s work to date: Barberadise (2009), Hodgepodge (2012), and Pop Renaissance (2013). In 2009, a comprehensive catalog of his work was authored by art historian Richard Marshall. Along with the artist’s recent participation in Urban Theater: New York Art in the 1980s at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Scharf was also featured in the group exhibition Art in the Streets at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Other events include a recent collaboration with the Orange County Museum of Art in celebration of the exhibition The Avant-Garde Collection and participation in the Pulcherrimae Strade initiative in Pordenone, Italy. The artist’s work has been shown at the Venice Biennale, Museum of Modern Art, P.S.1, and the Whitney Biennale, and is in the collections of major museums including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.