“What a pleasure to come into a gallery and see everyone smiling,” remarked Whitney Museum
director Adam Weinberg during this morning’s press conference for its mid-career retrospective of Los Angeles-based artist
, which opens Friday. Indeed, it’s an almost comically colorful, cheerful, exuberant collection of work, dropped like a paint-filled balloon into the middle of our current political mood. (It’s also a Whitney victory lap for the artist, who was included in both the 2004 and 2014 editions of the museum’s biennial.)
The show’s spiritual center might be a pair of two similar works from 2014, which both appropriate an inspirational poster that reminds the down-and-out that “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Owens’s versions splice and dice the original imagery—a citrus rainstorm funnelling into the head of a cartoon man whose spigot-nose emits sugary liquid—and makes it both joyous and strange.
Exploring this show is a bit like observing the painterly counterpart of Bradley Cooper in the campy 2011 thriller Limitless—the story of a man who, thanks to an off-market synthetic drug, is able to maximize the full potentials of his brain, growing intellectually at impossible speed. Granted, Owens’s evolution occurs over the course of 20-plus years, which feels frictionless when condensed into a single floor of a museum. But everywhere there is evidence of a fearless curiosity that isn’t afraid to indulge, digest, repeat, and discard stray ideas as they arise.