Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mark Ryden "The Gay 90s West" at Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, California (REVIEW)

Mark Ryden's latest exhibition at Kohn Gallery's new space in Hollywood is a visual delight. Ryden's work is well rendered and intelligent on so many levels. In his latest show, Ryden explores the sentimentality of the 1890s and the underlying themes that are hidden from such sentimentality while making references to contemporary pop culture.

When entering the gallery, one is stunned by the pink colored walls that cover the gallery. Pink both matches the works on the walls and provides a calming effect on the visitor. The works make reference to art history, American history and lore, late 19th century Victorian and current pop culture. There are portraits of Abraham Lincoln along with portraits of a doll figure wearing a meat dress, referencing Lady Gaga. There is a portrait of Katy Perry sitting along with various cute animals wearing a garden dress. The artist wants to make both an analogy and allegory about the Victorian and the current state of contemporary society.

The artist explores Victorian decorative design, clichéd notions of “Main Street USA,” small business and immigration (“The Meat Shop”), and vaudeville shows with a dark and complex sentimentality. Integrating the Christ figure and Abraham Lincoln with his wide-eyed, petticoat clad ingénues, Ryden presents the viewer with an unreal and very oddly camp version of American history. His is an exploration of what becomes cliché, what becomes kitsch and what becomes forgotten. Yet through it all Ryden makes some of the most richly rendered, beautifully glazed, idealized yet disturbing works of contemporary art. Like his contemporaries John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage and Neo Rauch, Mark Ryden uses a skillfully honed technique to render his polished and emotionally charged works.

The most compelling work is a large scale piece titled "The Parlor (Allegory of Magic, Quintessence and Divine Mystery):" a 96 x 120 inch painting with a wooden frame hand-carved in bas-relief. This work, I think, encompasses the entire thesis of the show. The idea behind the show is that a false nostalgia exists that places an innocence in the 1890s and in the past. The 1890s may have been a time of innocence, but it was also a time when society began to explore esoteric and occult ideas. There were dark undertones that prevailed behind the alleged innocence of the 1890s. Dracula, Jack the Ripper, and the Symbolist art movement all began or were popular during the 1890s. In the parlor, the scene portrays both a group of young women in a parlor hand various visitors mingle in a seance like setting. The center of the floor shows a baby with a device that has esoteric writings on the spinning wheel. The figures in the background are those myth including the snow yak, the evil eye, a snake, and an unrecognizable creature. Joining the party is death, standing on the left hand side carrying a tarot card. The bas-reliefs make reference to Egyptian and Esoteric symbols. In the rest of the exhibition, various pieces of Americana and objects referring to the "Gay 90s" are prevalent in the show.

The "Gay 90s West" is a smaller version of a show in New York. Ryden's beautifully rendered works are both dream and nightmare. The works mirror a society that longs for a golden time, yet the artist reveals something that both horrifying and beautiful that is hidden from the viewer in a society. I think Ryden's approach to subject matter is very similar to Japanese contemporary artists such as Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. Like Nara and Murakami, Ryden employs child-like innocence and nostalgia to hide a sinister aspect to human behavior. To Ryden, the innocence of the past only hides the dark truth of history and society.  This is a wonderful show, and it is highly recommended. Go see.


Opening Reception for the Artist: Saturday, May 3rd, 2014, 12pm to 6pm
Exhibition will continue through June 28, 2014

1227 North Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

T 323 461 3311
F 323 461 3312

Gallery Hours

Tuesday - Friday
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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