When Fantasy Collides with American Culture:
Kenny Scharf, BLOX and BAX
by Lizy Dastin
Through April 22nd
Kenny Scharf knows how to have a good time. Imprinting psychedelia, whimsy, fantasy, and just a dash of subversion, on the artworld since the 1970s, Scharf has long been regarded as a master of pop-surrealism. His recent body of work displayed at the Honor Fraser Gallery did not disappoint. Walking into the space, viewers will be confronted by Scharf’s signature characters, cheerfully saturated colors and intriguing works that collapse the divide between two-dimensional paintings and three-dimensional sculptures. Expect a sensorial immersion that celebrates a legacy well earned and a career well sustained.
One of the many admirable aspects of Scharf’s hefty oeuvre is his consistent dedication to re-animating found objects, enlivening something staid and perfunctory with his design. For instance, Scharf paints his characters—quite generously, for free—on anyone’s car who asks him. These splendid creations, called “karbombs,” whizz by in every neighborhood, bringing humor to gridlock traffic and personalizing the anonymity of the car culture in Los Angeles.
In BLOX and BAX, Scharf repurposes discarded and antiquated television sets, cleverly anthropomorphizing aspects of the objects’ preexisting shapes. The faces range from a surprised creature flushed with rainbow cheeks to a smirking pink octopus with bedroom eyes, to a stoned looking fellow with bedazzled teeth. The televisions themselves, otherwise obsolete, cultural relics, are re-imagined with fresh verve and, as Dr. Jim Daichendt, author of the recent monograph, Kenny Scharf: In Absence of Myth (Flexibound, 2016), notes, “ultimately they’re not functional anymore and are entirely new bodies.” These new bodies pulsate with life and add fun and humor to an artworld that’s too often self-conscious and precious.
During the 1980s in Manhattan, gallerists shifted their focus to the authenticity and raw defiance of graffiti tags and started to showcase this type of imagery in their exhibitions. For artists, the benefits of aligning with a gallery included more time to work, an increased set of resources and not having to worry about the weather or the police. Despite these upsides, there were equal downsides: mainly the fear that the work itself would become commercialized and neutral if displayed within such an elitist space and, worst of all, would read as less energized and subversive. Scharf’s work; however, refreshingly anti-elitist as it was then and continues to be now, never pandered to the space in which it was exhibited. Even his piece at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1984 Biennial was rebelliously relatable, poking fun at American fantasies of consumerism.
The characteristics that distinguish Scharf’s art from work made by his peers—his imagination, creativity in repurposing consumer waste and overall joy—are in full and wild force at this exhibition. And, at a time weighted down with political turmoil, Scharf’s dose of nostalgia couldn’t be more welcome.
Kenny Scharf: BLOX and BAX will be on-view at Honor Fraser Gallery until April 22nd, 2017
Honor Fraser Gallery
2622 La Cienaga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm