The New Museum is an impressive structure – 7 storeys high and clad in aluminium, it seems at ease with its bulk as it interrupts an otherwise mid-height skyline on Bowery. Three of the gallery’s seven floors were devoted to Jim Shaw’s exhibition, ‘The End is Here’. Shaw has been a prominent figure in the American artworld since the 70s, but this show at the New Museum is his first NY survey. To see work spanning 4 decades might normally feel disjointed as the artist necessarily transforms their process over the course of a career, but – whether down to Shaw’s vision itself, or clever curatorship – the retrospective managed to feel more like a honing than an overhaul, with a solid fil rouge to guide the viewer.
Jim Shaw at The New Museum
New York is a city absolutely bursting with art and galleries, and so the next few notebook entries here will be sharing what we saw there.
First stop, the New Museum. After a jet-lagged night in our Chelsea hotel – not the Chelsea Hotel – we emerged bleary eyed and met in the lobby for a very NY breakfast of bagels and filter coffee. After consulting a map like real tourists, we saw the New Museum was within walking distance, and so out we struck, blinking in the light and unseasonable warmth.
Monsters loom, hoisted on pulleys to great heights, and while their cardboard medium serves to underline their artifice, it also reminds us how susceptible we are to the old magic of anthropomorphism and narrative.
Shaw examines the American subconscious through its pop-culture. One floor was dedicated to ‘Labyrinth: I Dreamt I was Taller than Jonathan Borofsky’, 2009. His most recent work on display, this series is an immersive installation of sculptures and painted theatrical backdrops on a large scale. It evokes a feeling of being ‘back-stage’ – exclusive, transgressive – while maintaining all the charm of the theatre for a child. Monsters loom, hoisted on pulleys to great heights, and while their cardboard medium serves to underline their artifice, it also reminds us how susceptible we are to the old magic of anthropomorphism and narrative. We are left to imagine what scene, what performance, what story each backdrop/prop could be used to illustrate – let alone how they might interrelate. While the art speaks for itself, it inherently invites the viewer to apply their own imagination to satisfy that very human need for coherence and narrative structure.
On the third floor of the gallery are heaped religious pamphlets, leaflets, posters and other ephemera, presented together with a collection of thrift-store paintings – more objets trouvees – titled ‘The Hidden World’.
Shaw’s investigation of pop-culture encompasses Christianity, that most American phenomenon. Much of Shaw’s oeuvre utilises the found object, and when this philosophy is applied to something which is at once deeply personal and a cultural cornerstone – religion – the effect is more confronting than any more traditionally ‘creative’ interpretation might have been. On the third floor of the gallery are heaped religious pamphlets, leaflets, posters and other ephemera, presented together with a collection of thrift-store paintings – more objets trouvees – titled ‘The Hidden World’. The viewer must acknowledge that is is their own culture which produced variously mad objects and literature, and examine the residue of such modes of thinking at work in themselves, no matter how dismissive they may be of the objects.
Jim Shaw’s ‘The End is Here’ scrutinises and satirises, while embracing and investigating, the collective American subconscious. He is anxious to ‘get it right’ – his process often involves lengthy and meticulous historical research, and his interest in what unites us all rather than what separates us, however ugly the glue may be, makes for fascinating viewing. If you happen to be in New York before the 10th of January, we urge you to investigate for yourselves.