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Posts Tagged ‘Cameron Gray’

While I promised this blog would be focused on Boston’s art culture, I wanted to mention a gallery I saw while visiting my family back in San Francisco

San Francisco’s art scene is much more “sceney” than Boston’s.  As much as I do love my hometown, San Francisco is in love with being San Francisco and with that comes a “sceney-ness” that can sometimes fall prey to the allure of supposedly “shocking” art that’s actually just plain old bad art.

In this case, it was the work of Cameron Gray in his solo show, “It’s all Downhill from Here,” at the E6 Gallery in San Francisco.  His work relies on a mosaic of small photographs or paintings that when arranged begin to look like a well known image, ranging from the “Mona Lisa” to Jesus to tomatoes.

The most iconic of these images is “The Pornification of Everything” in which the “Mona Lisa” is comprised of 900 smaller paintings of hard core porn with women (or more appropriately parts of women), making the reward of closer examination somewhat mixed (I guess it just depends on the person looking). I presume it’s supposed to recapture the risqué intent of DaVinci’s famous work for our in time.

The picture of a bunch of carrots is, of course, comprised of various images from the fast food industry: hamburgers, fries, a part of a McDonald’s sign, etc.  Jesus is also junk food but tending towards the sweeter variety.  Overall, I was unimpressed by the majority of the showing; it’s just too gimmicky and not intelligent enough to make it interesting.  I mean, junk food versus nutritious vegetables, really? Am I actually supposed to see that and think “wow what a clashing dichotomy, what a brilliant and unpredictable comparison”? Even the Mona Lisa seemed clichéd at best.

Maybe I’m just cranky because one of my pet peeves is art that makes a big show of being shocking.  I would so much rather an artist do something that is interesting and intellectually provocative than shocking. It just seems like with neither the intimacy of subtlety or the depth of a truly fascinating point of view, they’re peddling to the lowest common denominator. As a woman who is attuned to and interested by the ways in which women are depicted in art and visual culture, I feel as though the conversation is so much richer than what Gray offered in this work.  The use of women, specifically nude women, has always been a staple in art and there has almost always been a very sexual element to these images.  A key component of any of these pictures has always been the act of looking, who sees and who is being seen; what control does the viewer have over the viewed.  Of course the discussion always becomes more interesting when there is a distinct gender difference towards the viewer and the viewed.  It’s an interesting conversation and an important one.  I believe that gender equality is partially based on the equalization of both being able to see and being open to being seen.  In Gray’s work, I just don’t see any conversation happening at that level.

Still, I would like to mention one piece that I think truly benefits from the mosaics.  “What it is” is from a distance an image of a face, which is made up of baby pictures, landscapes, birthday cakes, etc.  To me, I found that it demonstrated how the story of a person’s life both influences a person but is also hidden from the rest of the world.  In some ways, I think that this is the most effective means of his chosen medium, it begins to show what a regular portrait cannot show and allows the viewer to learn something more about the face we are invited to contemplate.  This piece veers distinctly away from gimmicks and instead embraces a basic tenet of humanity, how can you really know a person, and what does a face really tell us about someone?

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