Heroes and Villains in Contemporary Art

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Heroes and Villains in Contemporary Art

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Lois Lane: “I mean, why are you here? There must be a reason for you to be here.”

Superman: “Yes, I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way.”

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McDermott & McGough “Superhero #4” 2012 Print made with Archival Pigments on Fine Art Rag Paper 24 x 20 in.

Public fascination with the forces of good and evil aren’t exclusive to Hollywood but has seeped into the realm of contemporary art. It’s a duel to the death. What is a “hero”? Various definitions describe a hero as possessing brute strength, extraordinary mental capabilities and in the case of Bruce Wayne – aka Batman – enormous expendable wealth. Writer Stan Lee expounds on the definition of hero by adding that a “superhero” lives a normal so-called life but fights the greater forces of evil”. He states, that while unnecessary, fans “love colorful costumes…that differentiate the hero from their foes.”. – Stan Lee (Oupblog – Stan Lee on What Is a Superhero?” November 13, 2013) Every superhero needs a nemesis to serve as foil. Artists, installation artists, videographers, photojournalists and costume designers quickly weigh in and apply humor, irony, and pathos to depict a diabolical world run afoul with gamma radiation rays, gargantuan humanoids, antidrug lords, oil czars, Edwardian dandies and erotically clad robots. What follows are works that prove comical, noble, ironic, and in rare instances, so unflinchingly audacious as to sear the conscience.

In its wake, this artist discovers a new type of hero emerging: a figure lurking in the background, sensitive to seismic cultural shifts, clad with the instruments of his or her craft, and yet possessing ideals and the glorious powers of insight. That hero goes by the name “Artist”.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Artist as Anti-hero

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The dynamic duo named McDemott and McGough are multi-media artists known for their nostalgic obsession with bygone eras. The two artists met in New York in the 1980’s where they became known for their eccentric blending of art, fantasy and daily life. McDermott and McGough immersed themselves in the Victorian era, dressing as Edwardian dandies, reading by candelight, and living according to the tastes and technological limitations of the nineteenth century. (Artspace, McDermott and McGough, Artists Bio). Artist Peter McGough explains the worship of the artist as anti-hero. In an interview with Alain Elkann, we listen in:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_tablet_small=”xs_tablet” ult_hide_row_mobile=”mobile” ult_hide_row_mobile_large=”xl_mobile” css=”.vc_custom_1524713040543{padding-right: 300px !important;padding-left: 300px !important;}”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Alain Elkann: “You were living in the East Village in New York and you started your career as artists contemporary to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel and others. How did it work with your obsession with the past?

Peter McGough: “The great thing about the East Village at the time was that most artists were poor and they were different people, not in a negative sense, but they looked at the world upside down. And that is why regular people adore and worship artists, because their own life is mundane. If we go forward and we look at today, this is the typical modern person’s life today: – They wake up and they look at the screen on their phone, computer and television. They leave and they go to work and look at a screen. They go to the gym, and when they are running on the track they look at another screen. Then they leave the gym and they go home and they look at another screen, their TV set. Then they go to bed and they start again the next day doing the same thing. If that is not boring and mundane I don’t know what is”. – (Alain Elkann Interviews Peter McGough May 3, 2015)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_large_screen=”large_screen” ult_hide_row_desktop=”desktop” ult_hide_row_tablet=”tablet” css=”.vc_custom_1524713059374{padding-right: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Alain Elkann: “You were living in the East Village in New York and you started your career as artists contemporary to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel and others. How did it work with your obsession with the past?

Peter McGough: “The great thing about the East Village at the time was that most artists were poor and they were different people, not in a negative sense, but they looked at the world upside down. And that is why regular people adore and worship artists, because their own life is mundane. If we go forward and we look at today, this is the typical modern person’s life today: – They wake up and they look at the screen on their phone, computer and television. They leave and they go to work and look at a screen. They go to the gym, and when they are running on the track they look at another screen. Then they leave the gym and they go home and they look at another screen, their TV set. Then they go to bed and they start again the next day doing the same thing. If that is not boring and mundane I don’t know what is”. – (Alain Elkann Interviews Peter McGough May 3, 2015)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“Superhero #4” (Above) 2012 Print made with Archival Pigments on Fine Art Rag Paper 24 x 20 in. presents a figure contentedly ironing trousers on a hastily made ironing board. He sports a bow tie, a fedora, and striped purple and white boxer shorts. A carnation sits in his lapel. As a man-about-town, “Superhero #4” is on the verge of stepping out in full plume. Marvel comic book heroes – Captain Marvel, the Green Lantern, The Phantom, the Human Torch et al – swing overhead in garishly clad costumes of bright red, green and blue. McDermott and McGough deride the notion of masculinity encapsulated in high-flying testosterone. Alternatively, they propose a figure – much like themselves – entrenched in an Edwardian ideal of beauty where aesthetics, craftsmanship, the interior life of the mind and romance hold sway. Whereas the one-dimensional comic book figures are rough and tumble, “Superhero #4” is grounded in the pedestrian task of ironing and cuts a more elegant and genteel figure. “Superhero # 4” is part of a larger body of work that fights against bigotry and homophobia. It comes as no surprise that the duo later created a temple in New York honoring their hero, the writer Oscar Wilde in 2017.

Display of Darth Vader in “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” at the Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, Michigan May 20, 2018 – September 30, 2018

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Sebastian Utzni “M-Maybe” 2016 Works on Paper Comics from 1972 until 2001 9.84 x 12.99 in

 

German artist Sebastian Utzni, in the vintage comic “M-Maybe” uses irony and bridges a comic circa 1976 to a terrorist attack in 2001.

“M-Maybe” portrays distress at the site of the former Twin Towers. In the upper left panel, smoke billows forth from the skyscrapers while helicopters swing back and forth. In the lower panel, Superman looks down on a fallen metropolis amuck in chaos while plumes of smoke float upward. Pigeons narrowly escape the devastation. Our superhero, nonchalant, floats above with rippled muscles, arms crossed.

M-Maybe or maybenot.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Barbara Kruger Untitled (“Fine, I’ll Save the World Then”) 1986?

Whereas Superman is reserved from saving a doomed building, Barbara Kruger’s figure is defiantly proud in “Fine I’ll Save the World Then”.Artist Barbara Kruger questions the status of image. Images lie, she contends, and what we see may not always render truth. (“Resisting Tyrannies of Social Life” Widewalls).

A young black girl fashions a cape from a checkered picnic table and disguises her eyes behind a Venetian mask. The figure exudes confidence as she points upward. There is an innocence and freshness in its appeal.  Kruger’s images are subversive in that she tackles the notion of the white male Adonis as superhero and substitutes, instead, a young black female. “I think that art is still a site for resistance and for the telling of various stories, for validating certain subjectivities we normally overlook. I’m trying to be affective, to suggest changes, and to resist what I feel are the tyrannies of social life on a certain level.” – Barbara Kruger[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

“My, what big muscles you have!” – Barbara Kruger

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Hulk (Wheelbarrow) 2004 – 2013 Polychromed Bronze, Wood, Copper Live Flowering Plants 68 1/16 x 43 3/8 x 81 5/8 in. Represented by the Gagosian Gallery, New York

Some heroes come in shades of Kelly green; Take for instance, the villain-turned hero in Jeff Koons’ “Hulk (Wheelbarrow)” Gagosian Gallery, NY).The incredible Hulk gleefully pushes a wheelbarrow of flowering live petunias. The sculpture, though made of polychromed bronze, exudes an air of lightness. Black lines demarcate the appearance of muscles and purple shorts remain after his transformation from brilliant scientist to gargantuan humanoid. The Hulk squeals with delight. Gamma radiation rays have made Dr. Bruce Banner eerily joyful.  The Hulk has become a lover, not a fighter.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Assume Vivid Astro Focus “Amino Vanilla Acid Fiber” 2016 Silkscreen Printing and Oil Paint on Rivoli Paper 240 G 27.56 x 19.68 in.

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Jordan Wolfson’s “(Female Figure) 2017” Installation view The Stedelijk Museum Amersterdam

No artist possesses the gift of disorienting viewers quite like Jordan Wolfson.

In 2014 guests entered via small groups to view the artists’ first solo show at David Zwirner Gallery in New York. The installation consisted of a room within a room. Life-size“Female Figure”, birthed in an animatronic lab, sports a wasp-waisted corset, thigh-high vinyl boots and a brackish-green witch mask. Attached to a mirror, she gyrates to music by Lady Gaga and connects to visitors via facial recognition.

Female Figure” leaves visitors in a hypnotic trance with her evocative hand gestures and titillating dance moves. Viewers are reduced to stone. The hornet mask and hooked nose add a disturbing element as does the sound of mechanical whirring. While possessing prominent feminine features, she exposes bolted steel ligaments.  “Female Figure” is man, woman and other. A disembodied male voice asserts “my mother is dead, my father is dead, I’m gay, I’d like to be a poet. This is my house.” It is ironic to note that the artist uses social media, animatronics, animation and the influence of pornography to speak to a generation through a robot devoid of soul. Viewers do not know what to make of a figure who connects via eye contact but exudes a vacuous state even while proclaiming “…to touch is love.”

Jordan created the work after becoming mesmerized with the hand movements of an animatronic Barack Obama while touring Disney World’s Hall of Presidents. In his video work, animation often overlays representations of himself, standing in for a type of disconnected subconscious. (032c Issue 333 – Winter 2017/18 “How Do I feel More? A Weekend with Jordan Wolfson” by Thom Bettridge).

Fully connected to his subject matter and working with great intention, photojournalist Daniel Berehulak captures the brutal carnage brought on by the antidrug campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. His pivotal body work captures a callous disregard for human life and the devastation wrought on families left behind. Berehulak photographed forty-one murder scenes and fifty-seven bodies in a thirty-five-day span.(“They are Slaughtering Us Like AnimalsThe New York Times December 7, 2016) When Rodrigo Duterte became President of the Philippines he gleefully asserted his intent to kill millions of people to rid the country of drugs. Already, President Duterte’s war has claimed thousand of lives, including nearly 2,000 repotedly killed by Philippine police.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_tablet_small=”xs_tablet” ult_hide_row_mobile=”mobile” ult_hide_row_mobile_large=”xl_mobile”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 3, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 3, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

At 9 pm most nights, Berehulak would join a crowd of local journalists at Manila’s main police station, waiting for word of the latest killing, then racing to the scene. On October 3, the victims included Frederick Mafe, 48, and Arjay Lumbago, 23, who were riding together on a motorbike when killed by another pair of men on a motorbike.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_large_screen=”large_screen” ult_hide_row_desktop=”desktop” ult_hide_row_tablet=”tablet”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 3, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 3, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

At 9 pm most nights, Berehulak would join a crowd of local journalists at Manila’s main police station, waiting for word of the latest killing, then racing to the scene. On October 3, the victims included Frederick Mafe, 48, and Arjay Lumbago, 23, who were riding together on a motorbike when killed by another pair of men on a motorbike.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_tablet_small=”xs_tablet” ult_hide_row_mobile=”mobile” ult_hide_row_mobile_large=”xl_mobile”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

 

Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 9, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 9, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Jimji, just 6, cries “Papa! In anguish as she and other relatives await the start of the funeral for her father, Jimboy Bolasa, 25. His body, showing signs of torture along with gunshot wounds, was found under a bridge. The police said he was a drug dealer, but the family said Bolas had surrendered himself through Duterte’s program to avoid a violent death. (10/09/2016)

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Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 9, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 9, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Jimji, just 6, cries “Papa! In anguish as she and other relatives await the start of the funeral for her father, Jimboy Bolasa, 25. His body, showing signs of torture along with gunshot wounds, was found under a bridge. The police said he was a drug dealer, but the family said Bolas had surrendered himself through Duterte’s program to avoid a violent death. (10/09/2016)

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Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 12, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Photograph, Daniel Berehulak, October 12, 2016 The New York Times 2017 Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Inmates watch as other drug suspects are processed in a local police station on Oct. 12. The police say more than 35,600 people were arrested between July and November in antidrug operations the government calls Project Tokhang. The name is derived from a phrase meaning “knock and plead” in Cebuano, the president’s first language.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

“Holy hamstring Batman!” “Precisely, Robin, It’s destruction at its’ finest…”

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Sheida Soleimani “People’s Minister of Petroleum, Venezuela” Photograph, Archival Pigment Print, 2017

File name:Eulogio del Pino

Residence: State Penitentiary/Undisclosed, Venezuela

Occupation:Convict/former Venezuelan Oil Minister/ former President of Venezuelan State Oil Company Petroleos de Venezuela

Secret Weapon: Graft/Sabotage

Profile: Deftly falsified oil production reports to receive lush contracts amid an imploding domestic crisis.

Rhode Island based artist Sheida Soleimani creates a biting caricature of the former Venezuelan Oil Minister Eulogio de Pino. The official was arrested last year for falsifying production figures and committing acts of sabotage that resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenues while his country imploded. “We’re talking about the dismantling of a cartel of organized crime that had taken over PDVSA.” (“Venezuela Arrests Ex-Oil Bosses for Graft in Widening Purge” Reuters November 1, 2017 Alexandra Ulmer and Deisy Buitrago)

The artist superimposes Del Pino’s face onto a female figure sporting a string bikini. His apparel is akin to pasties. Sheida paints an unflattering portrait by using the emblem of his deceit – the Shell Oil company logo – as his badge of dishonor. Del Pino glibly carries a yellow oil canister in lieu of suntan lotion.  He stands coyly amid an azure “beach environment” composed of photos advertising oil rigs and drilling apparatuses. A larger Shell Oil company logo sits behind the fallen figure suggesting that while his compatriots experienced an economic tailspin, its’ Minister of Oil traipsed along a lusher environment in search of treasures – albeit shells of a different and far more lucrative kind.

These artists have used print, montage, photography, apparel, installation, animatronics, vintage comics and bronze to bring about a world suffused with figures assailing injustice, stereotyping, complacency and homophobia. Heroes will always spring up when a new nemesis arrives. My hats are off to these quiet heroes who use their mediums in intelligent and proactive ways to say the unsayable and to stir the very air.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Uncommon Alchemy

SLIDE 1: “momentum’s nursery…” handcut vintage paper collage (2020) 10” X 6 3/4” SLIDE 2: “an eruptive dismay…” handcut vintage paper collage (2020) 5″ x

Justin Barrie Kelly, Gold Medal for Excellence, found object, assemblag, contemporary art, Welsh artist, sculpture, Low relief, Wall hanging, Sculptural relief, Collage

Wickedly Welsh

“Gold Medal for Excellence” . Image courtesy of the artist. Wickedly Welsh In the Studio with Artist Justin Barrie Kelly @justin_barrie_kelly   Fascination for geometry