Currently on view at Metro Pictures, artist Jim Shaw returns to New York with a series of five new paintings, united under the name The Family Romance. Continuing the artist’s penchant for blending personal, political, and surreal narratives, the show traces Shaw’s interests in behavioral psychology and themes surrounding the family unit.
Utilizing a vocabulary drawing heavily on print advertisements and publications, Shaw’s work frequently twists the languages of art history, design, theory, vernacular modes of art practice, and cultural iconographies into his strange dreamworld, describing his world as a “core of the American dream.” For this new set of works, he draws on the reference to a psychological complex identified by Sigmund Freud in 1908, whereby a young child or adolescent fantasizes that they are really the children of parents of higher social standing than their actual parents. Shaw recalls doing this himself as a child, although, in his words, he “claimed to have been switched at birth and was really a Martian.”
Yet here, Shaw’s work and its use of print advertisements and other commercial symbolisms seems to echo the desire on which this psychological phenomena is based. One painting is based on the cover of a 1950s-era Christian magazine, featuring a wholesome middle-class family window shopping, reposed by Shaw as a family made out of potatoes sourced from an ad for instant mashed potato mix. The desire of the shopping family, their comfort in the world of the window frame, is turned into the product itself. In another painting, a family of six, in matching pajamas, are gathered around a patriarchal figure reading from a storybook. The pattern on their pajamas uncannily resembles the pattern of the background, which is from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test—a psychological test that assesses personality traits and psychopathology. A third painting, titled Macy Conference, evokes a straightforward Thanksgiving scene, pulled straight from Rockwell, yet using this framework to turn each of the people pictured into a balloon floating in a parade like the annual one on Thanksgiving Day in New York. Referencing the Macy conferences, an early series of meetings exploring the potential for cybernetics, Shaw turns both historical anecdotes and cultural imagery into a blended reflection of American counter-cultural history.
This sense of the drastic convergences of modern pop culture and American history, Shaw once again emphasizes his impressive abilities to act as a portrait-painter for the complex flows of information and historical junctures flowing across the landscape of the American Dream.
The show closes April 13th.
— D. Creahan
Metro Pictures [Exhibition Site]