Senior & Shopmaker Gallery is pleased to present Revisioning History, an exhibition of works on paper by artists who work across traditional and historical formats to create contemporary narratives. Appropriating styles employed by earlier practitioners, these artists bring contemporary vision to the centuries-old art of engraving, as well as techniques borrowed from the decorative arts, illustration, and old master painting and drawing.
The show is organized around three themes: political commentary; architecture and design; and allegory and surrealism. Artists such as William Kentridge (b. 1955, Johannesburg, South Africa) and Kara Walker (b. 1960, Stockton, CA) create pointed commentary on the injustices of apartheid and racial oppression, embracing respectively the satirical styles of Daumier, Goya, and Hogarth, and Victorian illustration and cut-paper silhouette techniques. The hyper-detail and graphic expertise of Butt Johnson (b. 1979, Suffern, NY) and Andrew Raftery (b. 1962, Goldsboro, NC) couch each artist’s critiques of technology and consumer culture. Their imagery is characterized by a jarring dissonance between traditional styles and techniques and contemporary subject matter. Raftery draws inspiration from Claude Mellan, a 17th-century engraver who formed images and evoked tone using parallel lines of varying densities. Grayson Perry (b. 1960, Chelmsford, England) also uses the seductive qualities of recognizable art forms to make stealthy comments about societal injustices and hypocrisies. In his monumental etching, Map of Nowhere, the artist works from the template of the medieval mappa mundi (map of the world), specifically the Ebstorf Map, which depicted the Christian worldview within the body of a crucified Christ. Perry’s version is rife with allegorical references to the artist’s plural sexual identities and witty allusions to current social, political, and economic themes.
Three artists in the exhibition address social and historical themes through the depiction of architecture. Lucy McKenzie (b. 1977, Glasgow, Scotland) makes paintings, drawings, and installations that underscore the intersection of fine art with the applied and decorative arts traditions. McKenzie questions utopian ideas of the past and symbols of power in works based on 20th-century avant-garde painting, poster design, and elements from architectural design. Pablo Bronstein (b. 1977, Buenos Aires, Argentina) also approaches his interest in Regency and postmodern architecture through a wide range of media – from drawing, sculpture and installation to performance. One of his key interests is the expression of institutional power through architecture, and the ability of architectural structures to inform social behavior and customs. Carlos Garaicoa (b. 1967, Havana, Cuba) addresses Cuba's politics and ideologies through the examination of modern architecture. His works are charged with provocative commentary on issues such as architecture's ability to alter the course of history, the failure of modernism as a catalyst for social change, and the frustration and decay of 20th-century utopias.
Other artists in the exhibition employ historically mimetic styles for allegorical purposes. Vija Celmins’ (b. 1938, Riga, Latvia) re-creation of a 19th-century Belgian map, Amérique, presents an outmoded geographical representation of the New World. Her combination of media and her exquisite rendition of the temporal obscure the line between realism and conceptual representation. Ged Quinn (b. 1963, Liverpool, England) specializes in allegorical paintings that include contemporary images (generally on controversial topics in Western cultural history) in idyllic scenes based on classical paintings such as the pastoral works of Claude Lorrain and Caspar David Friedrich. Saul Chernick (b. 1975, New York City, NY) mines the legacy of Northern Renaissance artists such as Hans Baldung Grien and Albrecht Dürer, while Bruce Conner (b. 1933, McPherson, KS; d. 2008, San Francisco, CA) and Joseph Cornell (b. 1903, Nyack, NY; d. 1972, New York, NY) drew inspiration from 19th-century book engravings. Their imagery seems as much a realization of these artists’ greatest fears—eroticism, death, chaos— as homage to their moralizing iconography.