The dandy cuts a paradoxical figure in culture. To some, he epitomizes style superseding substance: a man of vanity, disengaged from politics, who sees “the world as an aesthetic phenomenon,” according to Susan Sontag. Others valorize the dandy as a champion of individuality and expression, challenging standardization perpetuated by capitalism. Charles Baudelaire wrote dandies represented “the last gleam of heroism amid the decadence.” Such contradictions—between artifice and authenticity, massification and the avant garde—embodied by dandies have long inspired the painter Jesse Mockrin, who takes on contemporary dandyism in Korean pop stars and men’s high fashion for her project XOXO at Perrotin Seoul.
If the fastidiously stylized exterior of dandyism conceals a subversive interior edge, Mockrin’s sumptuously rendered oil paintings similarly challenge the monolithic status quo with artful subtlety. Mockrin is interested in the ways dandy men’s cultivation of beauty and indulgence in pleasure unabashedly embrace traditionally feminine preoccupations, destabilizing gender norms.
In mining and mixing imagery of Rococo frippery, K-pop pretty boys, and men’s fashion editorials, she locates a spark of authenticity and dissidence beneath the manufactured fantasy artifice of the Korean boy band industry, which co-opts and subverts colonial stereotypes of the Asian male as effeminate, and beneath the commodity fetish of luxury fashion, which has been pushing men’s dress in a foppish direction, replete with floral patterns, silk, and pussy bows. The tension between what is seen and unseen, the public and private, surface and content in the subject matter is also heightened in Mockrin’s striking employment of cropping in the paintings’ compositions.
Mockrin continues the dialogue in painting exploring celebrity and sexuality in the work of artists like Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Peyton, integrating images from consumer culture into the realm of high art. But with XOXO, Mockrin takes the process a step further by reinserting the avant garde discourse back into mass culture as the paintings also serve as a fashion editorial in Document Journal. In Mockrin’s intercessions with consumerism, art is not subsumed by capitalist machinery but rather holds a mirror to the fraught contradictions of modern life in the neoliberal age, suggesting the liberative potential in commodity culture.
Jesse Mockrin (b. Silver Spring, MD, 1981) received her M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego, in 2011, and her B.A. from Barnard College, New York, in 2003. Mockrin has had solo exhibitions at Night Gallery (Los Angeles), and at Nathalie Karg Gallery (New York). In 2016 she had a major presentation in NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. In addition to the Rubbell Family Collection, her work is also in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Hans-Joachim and Gisa Sander Foundation. Mockrin’s work has been covered extensively, appearing in publications including Artforum, The New Yorker, T Magazine, Modern Painters and Art Agenda. Jesse Mockrin lives and works in Los Angeles.