Friday, September 11, 2009

Todd Schorr's "Hunter Gatherer"

Here is a review in Nature (access to full article may require subscription) of a painting by Todd Schorr. This painting is part of an exhibition of Todd Schorr's work currently at San Jose Museum of Art. I love this painting and its complete immersion in popular culture. What a nice way to bring in a King Kong reference alongside paleolithic art!

On other occasions, however, the narrative and symbolism move to a different level. This is particularly true of his recent series of ape paintings, which range across chronological territories from the remote past to the sci-fi future. Hunter Gatherer (owned by Leonardo di Caprio) garishly exemplifies how Schorr tells his stories and enriches them with intricate symbolism. We need to decode the whole and the parts in much the same way that a historical iconographer would tackle a Botticelli painting on a classical theme.

A humanoid ape emerges from a bubbling swamp, apparently amazed by the sight of a toy space robot. On his back, like Santa Claus, he carries a roughly stitched sack of cartoon character toys, including Batman. A laughing Mohican is dressed in the uniform of an Atlanta Braves baseball player. The palaeolithic Willendorf Venus dances with a stubbly and lecherous Mickey Mouse on a disco platform cut from the bloody leg of an ungulate. Another mouse in the ape's grip, presumably Minnie, plays the part performed so tellingly by Fay Wray in the 1933 film King Kong. Fronds of primitive equiseta spiral upwards into a vortex that is reminiscent of Paul Signac's pointillist portrait of Félix Fénéon from 1890 (at the Museum of Modern Art in New York).

At one level, Schorr is revelling in the look of lowbrow culture. Yet once this is portrayed on the heroic scale of a historical painting on the walls of an art gallery, we are invited to adopt an ironic manner of viewing. Like all pop artists, he is having his cake and eating it too, only to spit it out at the end. We may intuit that the hunter-gatherer in Schorr's painting suggests that the apeman's primitive instinct for acquiring material trivia still drives our consumer culture today.

However, to formulate too fixed an interpretation is wrong. Unlike a frame from a comic-book cartoon, the narrative is not spelled out by successive images and strings of words. The painting acts as an inviting field for interpretation.

Schorr is obviously fascinated by apes. Here is a clip that explains a bit more about his fascination and, of course, it leads you back to King Kong (by the way, all this talk about King Kong is also relevant as it is brought up in a wonderful sequence in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds).


Matthew said...

I keep giggling at the Venus of Willendorf dancing with Mickey Mouse... :)

I feel like I've seen his work before, but I don't think so unless he had something at DeCordova recently.

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