If you’re at all interested in seeing Wisconessee, Duncan R. Anderson and Daniel Bruttig’s semi-collaborative two man show at Kasia Kay Projects, I can tell you right now there’s a good chance you’ve already seen it. Typically, I’m not one to write a negative review for the sake of teeing off on artists who are just trying to get some work out there. But this show is typical of the broader cultural trend of favoring work that’s long on stylish cynicism, full of derivative posturing, and the worst kind of irony. It’s an established and mechanically rehearsed drift that is certainly worthy of comment.
Wisconessee simply can’t mask its own clichés. The exhibition checks off so many of the familiar tropes associated with hip urban bohemia the artists may as well have used a “Best of” collection from Juxtapoz as their creative blueprint. Barry McGee–style clusters of individually framed art pieces are faithfully reproduced in what has become practically a mandatory installation strategy. Half-man/half-animal composite creatures so dutifully inhabit the artists’ “personal mythologies” that Maurice Sendak’s estate should be collecting royalty checks. If shows like Wisconessee represent a common metaphorical language of childhood experience and Gen X/millennial angst, then that language is now a babble, tongue-tied and hoarse from exhaustive repetition. Unintentionally, the show is less a collection of works by two individuals and more like a taxonomy of popular signifiers of self-conscious alienation and the postures of marginality so common among young urban creative types. They quote The Smiths, for fuck’s sake!
The most glaring locus of these issues resides in the large groups of colored-pencil and marker drawings. When done effectively, a critical mass of pictures can speak to the concept of Internet-era image overload. Here, similar use of materials and the close arrangement of images are meant to blur distinctions between Anderson’s and Bruttig’s work. And yet certain individual themes begin to emerge through careful viewing.
Bruttig tends to draw monstrous characters in contemporary clothing isolated on the page. Rex (2013) is a long-haired creature with fangs and claws, tight pants and an Adidas T-shirt. Nick with Monster Mask (2013) depicts a green alien/swamp monster in a Fila tank top. Conspicuous second-tier brands show up throughout Bruttig’s contributions to the matrix, though the specter of consumer culture has little effect in these pieces other than to identify the characters as thrift-store hip. Far from fearsome, the monsters are portrayed as gentle souls, avatars for sensitive counter-culture personalities who play up the aesthetic of high-school loser.
Anderson’s drawings bring a more varied set of strategies. Neolithic Shaman with Spirit Mask (2013) features a smoky green buffalo figure that fills the four corners of the page. Text reading “… summoning avenging ancestors from ash and smoke, failing spectacularly” narrates the aspirations and disappointments of the shaman. Try and Fail (2013), which depicts a turtle crawling out to sea, is reminiscent of the kinds of inspirational posters hanging in a high-school guidance counselor’s office. Text incorporated into this piece lists the words “exhausted,” “hatching,” “receding,” and “tide.” Anderson’s drawings have a spark to them. Unfortunately, that spark is undermined by an all too fashionable fixation on failure and cheap-o materials that come across as noncommittal.
The sculptural works in the show mash up spiritual iconographies in order to create kitschy new altarpieces. Anderson’s Forrest Daemon (2013) is a collage of found objects and mashed-up mythological references. A buck-headed matador is run through St. Sebastian–style by a dozen tiny swords. Three pairs of inverted wings radiate Hindu-style behind the matador’s body. The combination of a black painted piñon branch and a deer antler frames the piece, which cast overlapping wall shadows. Bruttig created a mandala-like altarpiece called Black Forrest Alter (2013) made out of the dismantled components of discount cuckoo clocks. On their own, these works are less objectionable than the drawings. Still the specter of dime-store profundity rattling around the gallery and the tonal inconsistencies in the artist’s cynical celebration of failure and kitsch ultimately add up to little more than assertions that such art is easily reproduced and that disaffection is highly marketable.
Not that the trials and tribulations of the sub-forty set are an unworthy topic. Not in the least. Never in American history has a generation been so highly educated and so thoroughly debt-ridden at the same time. The difference between top income earners and the rest of us hasn’t been this disparate since the Gilded Age. Fifty years after the Civil Rights movement, the country’s urban populations are almost exactly as racially segregated as they were in the 1960s. War is waged by the grace of a whim. This is the world we inherited, and it’s worth getting creative about ways to express a uniquely contemporary sense of angst, metaphorically or otherwise. So why all the boring naval-gazing and passively derivative responses?
Existence is weird, right? Pass me another PBR.
Wisconessee is on view at Kasia Kay Projects through October 12, 2013.