whitehot | April 2011, Zhivago Duncan @ Contemporary Fine Arts
Zhivago Duncan, To Seperate The Bacon From The Fat Is Impossible: M.A.M.V22a.B8, 2010 - 2011
Oil on canvas, 3 panels, 230 x 540 cm / 90.55 x 212.6
Courtesy of the artist and CFA Berlin
Zhivago Duncan: Dick Flash's Souvenirs of Thought
Contemporary Fine Arts
Am Kupfergraben 10
10117 Berlin Mitte
21 January through 12 March 2011
Zhivago Duncan’s recent solo exhibition at Contemporary Fine Arts, Dick Flash’s Souvenirs of Thought, tells the fictional story of Dick Flash, the survivor of an environmental disaster that has extinguished the rest of humankind. The bulk of the show is made up of paintings containing a recurring skeletal motif and graffiti or ransom note style text. In the center of the gallery an intricate mechanical sculpture set in a vitrine, Pretentious Crap, rounds out the installation.
This work is a departure from Duncan’s previous pictures, silkscreens reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s but with a wonderfully imprecise, garish punk rock edge. The “Dick Flash” paintings are equally sloppy, but less fittingly so. The memento mori skeleton motif seems too obvious for the theme, and the other images, which include a veined phallus and a fetus sharing the same picture plane, work against the intellectual merit of what Duncan is trying to convey here.
Dick Flash’s journey is difficult to follow in writing, and nearly impossible without a press release in hand while viewing the show. This issue befalls many artists who construct a complex fictional narrative to support their work; Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle comes to mind, as its plot and intellect come to be known mostly in extensive writing on the piece, rather than made manifest immediately in front of the viewer.
Without a plot to guide the audience through the painting series, Duncan’s dismissible and repetitive images quickly fall away. What remains are words, and words are difficult. The phrases he has emblazoned under and around his images rest somewhere between the deadpan simplicity of Ed Ruscha and the raucous jokes of Richard Prince. Yet Duncan’s words fall short of imparting a lasting message, as text in art undoubtedly should. One canvas screams, “To separate the bacon from the fat is impossible,” an expression that hardly elicits the post-apocalyptic horror at hand. It is difficult to discern whether this word play is just that—play—or a genuine attempt at profundity.
The Dick Flash saga has the potential to provide a lighthearted experience or a sincere musing on contemporary culture, yet it accomplishes neither. Too twisted to be fun yet too shallow to spark serious contemplation, the work here rests in an iffy no man’s land. The paintings are big and bold, yes, but don’t quite catch up to the story or the issues they aim to illustrate.
Amanda Fischer is a junior at New York University pursuing a B.A. in Art History. She is currently studying at NYU Berlin and is interning for the artist Cécile B. Evans.
Whitehot Magazine's Berlin Editor, Ana Finel Honigman, is pleased present a series of reviews and interviews by studio art students of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The students are spending a semester abroad in Berlin and contributing to Ana Finel Honigman’s contemporary art course “Intro to Reality: Art World Institutions in Context.” The articles are written as part of Ms. Finel Honigman’s class and selected for publication based on their excellence.
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