Artforum: Jim Shaw at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles

July 20, 2017

Daniel Gerwin

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Jim Shaw at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
By: Daniel Gerwin 

A visual maelstrom of black-and-white screen prints and paintings opens Jim Shaw's exhibit: their marks swirl and overlap, subsuming figures distorted as if they were reflections in a fun-house mirror. Meticulously rendered paintings on segments of worn theatrical backdrops distill and clarify this initial chaotic imagery. Here, Shaw paints vignettes that mash up politics, religion, comic books, Masonic tradition, and art history: Donald Trump plays the role of Satan in an update of William Blake’s Lucifer and the Pope in Hell, ca. 1805; George Washington ascends to the heavens as Zeus; and in a riffing reversal of Hieronymus Bosch’s ca. 1501–1505 Extracting the Stone of Madness, Steve Jobs inserts an iPhone into Lex Luthor’s skull.

Trump’s hair appears repeatedly as a motif. In Nebuchadnezzar in Abu Ghraib, 2017, the foppish comb-over takes Lynndie England’s place in a staging copied from her notorious 2003 photograph with a chained inmate, but the prisoner is now Nebuchadnezzar as a lion wearing a torn Superman costume. A suite of pencil drawings on an adjacent wall features clean-cut, smiling white people straight from the 1950s merging with factories, ovens, and other mechanical equipment to form nightmarish hybrids, a dark vision of our ever-deepening enmeshment with technology. These drawings are the most direct allusion to our modern political machinery that supplies servants and beneficiaries to a consumerist landscape of economic hegemony.

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Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo will be closed for the summer from August 14 through August 28.