Alex Gross: Antisocial Network
February 25 - March 25, 2017
Corey Helford Gallery, Los Angeles
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, MAR. 2017
Even as they deploy a profusion of talismans of the present day, Alex Gross’ new paintings display a profound and unexpected relationship to art history, specifically to court paintings and other expensively commissioned portraits of the wealthy and their bored children from the 17th-19th centuries. Think gussied-up portraits of single subjects and the occasional wedding feast jam-packed with assortments of domestic and edible treasures that can only be described as surreal -- and yet were very much based on tangible status symbols -- except now it’s room service or fast food and pricey, couture-label yoga pants, wicked tattoos instead of weighty gemstones, and they gaze at their own reflections in iPhones not gold-framed mirrors. But beauty is still beauty and irony is still a strange bedfellow for it. It is that uncanny cognitive dissonance that lends these works their surreal effect, despite many of the compositions’ tethering to conventional pictorial settings. In the end, these paintings are more Symbolist than Surrealist. To be sure, there are anthropomorphic animals and eerie androids where they don’t belong, some liminal ghostings in progress, gaggles of red-breasted robins, and flying lions -- but for the most part Gross offers us a suite of dystopian neo-courtly paintings of the new generation’s royalty -- instagram celebrities.
Everyone is acting like they know they are being photographed, selfie or otherwise. Everyone’s plugged into their phones. When they don’t have their phones, they are probably thinking about their phones. They have one eye on their circumstance and one eye on the camera, always. Alone in a crowd, photographing themselves, their food, their bling, ignoring the gorgeous view, flowering field, or physical proximity of a loved one in favor of the overtly commodifiable and easily tweeted. They look sad, or not really so much sad as dead inside. Far too lavishly crafted to be simple jokes, they are also virtuoso technical feats. And they are some of the most stunningly beautiful men and women you will ever see, but in one important way Gross deviates from a central convention of portraiture -- the depiction of the subject’s inner life. Instead, he gives us all the most finely rendered, detailed, witty trappings of their outer lives, and offers us nothing of their emotion or psychology. That is, of course, the whole point.
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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