I’m going tell you a little bit, very quickly, about Folklore, the group show that Evan Hecox curated recently at Joshua Liner Gallery. But first, I have to get this off my chest: in the art world post- “Beautiful Losers” (the 2005 group exhibition that helped solidify the cultural agency of “street” and “skate” as near blue chip art buzzwords), we’ve been flooded with a seemingly endless amount of commercial work and fine art exhibitions by the artists included therein. All the shows and record companies and skateboard graphics, ad campaigns, t-shirt brands, music projects, feature and documentary films these artists have produced now blur together into a indecipherable glob of creative output that I can barely make any sense of. I am also fairly certain that most of the country thinks an “Obey” t-shirt is the pinnacle of this group’s creative accomplishments.
Never mind all of that, because I actually want to tell you why I really liked this show… and although I have to admit that found the title rather exhausted, the exhibition itself is quite lively. It brings together 14 artists, some of whom rank amongst my current favorites: Thomas Campbell, Benjamin Deberdt, Stevie Gee, Evan Hecox, Cody Hudson, Andy Jenkins, Geoff McFetridge, Serena Mitnik-Miller, Andrew Paynter, Nigel Peake, Stephen Powers, Nathaniel Russell, Peter Sutherland and Ed Templeton.
Curator Evan Hecox’s selections put a new mix on the table, throwing often grouped together artists like Campbell, McFetridge, Powers and Templeton in with a number of heads I haven’t seen in their midst before. Templeton’s presence, with two big clusters in the show, feels a bit overstated. However, the groupings are solid and essentially anchor the two main rooms of the exhibition.
Helping to offset those groupings are photographic works by Deberdt, Paynter and Sutherland. Not to marginalize Sutherland, who is certainly one of my favorite artists working today, but I couldn’t drag myself away from Deberdt’s portrait of Jason Dill, who skateboarders (like myself) tend to see too much of; likewise for his great bodega portrait of Jahmal Williams (from whom we see too little). Paynter, on the other hand, spins a well-worn motif- romantic couples looking over the city- into a pair of unfailingly classic and lovely images.
Although unable to dig into the idea within the short stretch of my review, I have to say that finding and building connections between artists is part of the surprise and pleasure of a good group show; exploring how new relationships complicate and problematize works by familiar artists makes the experience wholly worthwhile. On that note, I was excited to find Nathanial Russell (though the piece I like most is hiding in the back room) in the mix there, and the nice selection of two-dimensional works by Cody Hudson pale in the shadow of his fantastic sculpture Farewell Transmission (a reference, if I’m not mistaken, to the recent passing of musician Jason Molina) It takes a prominent position centered in one of the gallery’s tall, street level windows.
Other surprises include a handful of abstract collage works by Andy Jenkins, known primarily for whimsical figurative illustration. In a similarly unpredicted stylistic shift (further defying my expectations) there is a delicately rendered, incredibly detailed cityscape drawing by Evan Hecox, tucked away behind the reception desk, which pretty much blew me away.
The gist of this review, I suppose, is simply my admission that I had a lot of assumptions before going into the show, and that I expected another variation on a theme I’m tired of seeing. I wrote it hoping to target those of you who have felt oversaturated with exposure to the aesthetic these artists have (fairly or not) come to represent. Evan Hecox and Joshua Liner Gallery did a great job of making this work feel fresh again, and Liner’s new space on 28th Street is beautiful; it served this exhibition very well. Unfortunately for SFAQ readers, the show runs for three short weeks, and is closing on August 2. Check out the gallery’s website to read the press release, see more installation shots and images of all the individual works in the show.
-Contributed by Louis M. Schmidt