Jim Shaw, Going for the One (2022), via Gagosian
On view this month at Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, artist Jim Shaw presents a selection of new works that continue his enigmatic and challenging exploration of modernity and culture. United under the title Thinking the Unthinkable, the show reanimates mythological themes through incidents from political history and popular entertainment, outwardly disparate fields that collide here in a dreamlike mélange.
Jim Shaw, No Bikini Atoll (2022), via Gagosian
The exhibition’s title, which suggests both a psychedelic context and the impossibility of examining our own consciousness, is adapted from Herman Kahn’s 1962 book about nuclear war, Thinking About the Unthinkable, and explores the figure of the goddess, which for Shaw intersects with Marshall McLuhan’s thesis that the development of the phonetic alphabet had a divisive societal impact, and with Leonard Shlain’s argument that the laws of written language curtailed the status of women and blunted the potential of matriarchal religion. In Cadmus Sowing the Teeth of the Slain Serpent (2022), Shaw depicts the Greek hero planting the seeds of the alphabet and begetting the warrior fathers of Thebes, while in Going for the One (2022) he casts Raquel Welch as Shiva/Kali god/dess of destruction and rebirth, demolishing the headquarters of 20th Century Fox. The latter scenario intersects with the exhibition’s other key motif: the gleeful deconstruction of Hollywood legend. “I had been researching the history of psychedelics and power,” recalls Shaw, “which led me to Cary Grant (who was, before Timothy Leary, the most vocal proponent of acid), which led me to Esther Williams and her acid trip, which reminded me of her version of the romance with Jeff Chandler.”
Jim Shaw, Down by the Old Maelstrom (where I split in two) (2022), via Gagosian
Jim Shaw, Thinking the Unthinkable (Installation View), via Gagosian
Shaw’s work poses an American identity that walks the many disparate threads between gonzo psychedelia and classic pop culture, often picking at the delicate threads and concepts that tenuously separate the two cultures. Cary Grant is an intriguing figure here, one who actively experimented with LSD and aggressively espoused its benefits, even as he was a mainstream cultural figure of the era. Rather than make clear distinctions between mainstream and alternative culture, Shaw understands the points of slippage and surrealism that pervade modernity, and here, exploits them.
The show closes February 25th.
– D. Creahan
Jim Shaw at Gagosian [Exhibition Site]