RRRGGGHHH!!! Jerry Kearns at Mike Weiss (26 June through 23 August )
By ROBERT C. MORGAN, JULY 2014
This is probably the best – and brightest – show I have seen at Mike Weiss gallery in five years. While consistently exploring new territory and vital frontiers in the global scene, Mike Weiss is always committed to whatever he shows, even if the artists come and go. But finally he hit bingo with ensign Kearns.
Comics, films, politics, psychology, art world lassitude, and mythic fables – These are the freak components that make RRRGGGHHH!!! ring, rage, and rattle, that give it punch, poignancy, and prattle, and that leave viewers quivering with angst, glandular dyspepsia , paranoid remorse, entitlement giggles, sophomoric glee, adroit mascara, and rancorous, if not fanatical leanings toward sacrilege. This is not only a summer show, but also a heated one.
In whatever direction you turn, there’s trouble. The characters painted both on walls and canvases are brewing big-time! There are consonants galore (and occasional vowels), scrawled riot-style, wherever you look. Hey Bud! Think AGGGKK! before SKREEEE1
Kearns is not into graffiti. Not kitsch, and too elegant for Pop. Even as he employs Pop subject matter and signage, he has always shown classical tendencies. This has been in his stall from the beginning, even as a sculptor, or later, as “a political artist.” Even as he has tried to conceal his quiver of arrows wrought from Mount Parnassus, the precision in Kearns' work cannot be discounted. One may be awestruck, or thunderstruck, standing in front of BAM BAM or ONE TRICK PONY, both dated 2010-2013. One might inquire with the receptionists as to whether Kearns has been snorkeling at the Lido with Venetian painters, like Titian or Bellini. But I’ll bet you a kroner, if not two, he wasn’t there alone that night with Tintoretto, slumbering at Harry’s Bar. The shear mythic stature of these paintings is filled with action and complexity through an intense layering and suggestion of movement, a swirling chamber of bodies in time and space. Are we watching Star Trek or caught in the caverns of the Guggenheim atrium? BAM BAM is an anything-but-solemn version of Neo-Rococo, a painting in which our perceptual offerings are torn asunder while observing the corporeal gesticulations of the Son of God doubled as a cowboy skirmishing above a movie star cowpoke lighting a roll-your-own to entice Blondie on the opposite symmetrical side of the frame.
Like it or not, Kearns’ complex, hypertropic paintings are within a certain art historical lineage. Not since early Jasper Johns, have their been paintings so filled with conscience by way of glib concealment, the fear of not wanting to get caught as a Classicist at the wrong place or time. Yet this recalcitrance is what gives Kearns’ paintings their aura, if we can call it that. Only in Kearns do we discover a gigolo’s encounter with terrorists, or Gigolo Jesus, by cracky, dressing-up like naughty John Wayne. To have no rules in painting should mean you have the knowledge, either to use or dispose. This is the sign of a painter who knows the ropes and how to climb in all directions. Kearns makes a good argument here for the acquisition of skills.
The paintings in the rear at Mike Weiss gallery are mostly the quintessential ones, the paintings that ultimately make the show resonate from the faux-prairielands to Boot Hill.
Despite their subject matter in which the martyr cowboy plays the starring role, the action, narration, poetics, and gifted delivery of these paintings, including the accuracy of color in AGGGKK!, and the haunting futuristic beauty in ONE TRICK PONY, it is an understatement to say that this exhibition should not be missed. The paintings, more than the installation, are worth spending the time. The irony appears to evolve from another reality that manages to reflect the inconceivable churning of constant illusions that were manufactured decades ago and now have finally reached the present.
Robert C. Morgan is an internationally renowned art critic, curator, artist, writer, art historian, poet, and lecturer. He holds an MFA in Sculpture from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1975), and a Ph.D. in contemporary art history from the School of Education, New York University (1978). Dr. Morgan lives in New York, where he lectures at the School of Visual Arts and is Adjunct Professor in the graduate fine arts department at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He is Professor Emeritus in Art History from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
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