Olaf Breuning, the Swiss-born, New York-based artist who has received wide acclaim for his playful appropriations of the iconography of popular culture, has returned to Metro Pictures for a highly anticipated solo exhibition, titled The Life. Consisting of 25 MDF panels each reaching to 9 feet high, the artist’s lofty, circular panels and free-standing steel sculptures incorporate Breuning’s mix of the humorous, quotidian and idiosyncratic imagery of the contemporary social landscape: emojis, bean bags, beer bottles, human figures and other objects, omitting any hierarchal separation so that each element blends into a somewhat objective examination of reality.
Stripped from logical, corporate or practical connotations, Breuning’s figures can be seen as a blend of the personal and their role as common signifiers, and the amalgamation of this diverse set of common daily stimuli is at once delightful and profane. Breuning’s collages take the visual representation of an increasingly technologically-driven contemporary culture, where the individual attempts to connect to his community through ultimately empty, hackneyed and anonymous social codes. With their condensed and chaotic nature, these panels are open to be interpreted, as either Breuning’s subliminal manifesto or merely a manner of of interacting with his surrounding.
The inclusion of a variety of individual human figures (photographs presumably taken in the artist’s own studio), and the occasional reflection of the viewer themselves among the collages through the mirror-like surfaces of the steel, brings humanity to the works, providing a premonition of an inescapable collective demise into a chaotic absurdity. Once the viewer finds himself reflected among the swirling digital images, the consideration of one’s own participation is unavoidable, even begging reflection. However, the ridiculousness of the symbols themselves, the aesthetic appeal of the incredible detail and the vibrant color of the collages, and the fun-house quality of the mirrored steel sculptures seem to soften the blow.
Olaf Breuning, Life II (2015)
The viewer’s encounter with the dizzying cornucopia of images reflects the manner in which those of contemporary society are bombarded with visual codes at an ever-accelerating rate, while the humor of the works reflects the artist’s method of coping with this same bombardment. Considering the playful tone of the works, “The Life” seems to project the artist’s acceptance of the transience of social codes as well as of the tendency of humans, as social organisms, to continue to create them. Even further, one may detect a Warholian sort of reveling in this– the artist focuses on a universal language and the commonalities in the behavior of all humans in continually constructing and re-constructing this language. The exhibition is ultimately a reflection of human social life, wherein art is The Life and perhaps vice versa.
Olaf Breuning: The Life is on view at Metro Pictures through July 31, 2015.
Olaf Breuning, The Life (detail)
— O.C. Yerebakan and J. Berman
*All images are by Osman Can Yerebakan and Josie Berman for Art Observed.
Metro Pictures [Exhibition Page]