The one thing you should see this week: an art show that makes a mockery of art shows
This week’s pick: Mr. Brainwash at Gallery One
In Banksy’s hit 2010 documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, Mr. Brainwash (real name Thierry Guetta) gurgles in a Pepé Le Pew accent while sucking up to a cadre of top street artists—Banksy, Invader, Shephard Fairey—before, on a whim, striking out on his own. The result? A kitschy, patchwork oeuvre of with elements heavily borrowed from his idols—stencilled images of Einstein and Charlie Chaplin against comic strip decoupage and graffiti, silhouettes of Bob Marley and Billie Holliday cobbled together from crushed vinyl records, eight-foot-tall Campbell’s Soup spray cans. In an art world where originality is key, Mr. Brainwash is the ultimate villain.
The man himself is in town this week for a TIFF-affiliated show (including some new work) at Gallery One, where his concoctions are as garish and ridiculous as ever. They’re also kind of awesome despite themselves. In Exit Through the Gift Shop, Guetta is unflinchingly earnest about the seriousness of his art. But Mr. Brainwash’s work is most successful as an unintentional sendup of street art traditions, recasting those cutesy, achingly self-conscious works under new, harsh light. Does it matter that Guetta might not be totally clued in to why his work is brilliant? Probably not.
He’s appropriated the materials and themes of his predecessors and repurposed them without a hint of irony, turning them into a farce. Mr. Brainwash’s works are almost carnivalesque in their over-the-top tackiness, like a friend who wears every piece of jewellery she owns at once. Celebrities and cartoon heroes share the same frames, along with magazine clippings and graffiti tags. In what must be Andy Warhol’s worst nightmare, Leonard Nimoy and Michael Jackson don Marilyn Monroe’s haircut. Each piece is an assault on the eyes.
On one level, the works are a kind of absurdist warning against taking art too seriously. On another, they highlight the problem of the relationship between an artist’s intention and his work’s meaning. But at their most basic level, they’re just plain fun.
The details: Sept. 7 to Oct. 22. Free. Gallery One, 121 Scollard St., 416-929-3103, galleryone.ca.