Popping Bubbles and Kicking Pedestals, the Wayne White Way

You might not know it, but you’ve seen Wayne White’s work. He’s the creative mind behind a variety of classic music videos, including the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” (1995). He also won a handful of Daytime Emmy Awards for production design and set decoration on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Paul Reubens’ wacky, wonderful TV show.

But White isn’t precious about his art. Just the opposite, in fact. His new exhibition—“I’M HAVING A DIALOGUE WITH THE UNIVERSE AND YOU’RE JUST SITTING THERE,” now on view at Joshua Liner Gallery in New York—widens his sardonic view of the art world and the inflated egos that help keep it afloat. The show’s title, White has said, channels “an artist’s private, nasty thoughts about how he or she is superior to the public and is so worthy of praise and attention.”

Despite his mainstream success, White actually started as an outsider. He was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before moving to New York and later to Los Angeles, where he is currently based. He got his start in the 1980s as a cartoonist at the New York Times and The Village Voice, kicking off a creative career that has since included seemingly everything: painting, sculpture, puppeteering, typography, design, and illustration.

In the new solo show, White’s penchant for exploring human vanity is on spectacular display. The show features the full range of his artistic practice: murals, kinetic sculptures, and works on paper, all mixing kitsch with Surrealist influences and White’s comic critique of the ego-driven artist.

Waynetopia (2016), a wallpaper installation made in collaboration with Brooklyn-based Flavor Paper, features a lush landscape partly inspired by 19th-century French scenic wallpaper, overlaid with White’s trademark: boldly painted words à la Ed Ruscha.

The exhibition’s key works are White’s signature word paintings on vintage offset lithographs. Their droll, lengthy titles tell painfully realistic stories of art world snafus: HAD IT GOIN ON BUT LOST IT THEN GOT IT BACK THEN FUCKED UP AND LOST IT, or WE WERE IN AWE OF HIS WORK BUT HE WAS A GIANT ASSHOLE (both 2016). The shorter titles, meanwhile, denounce artists who are overly concerned with the less artistic side of the art world: F.U. MONEY (2016).

“It’s my way of popping bubbles and kicking pedestals,” White has said. Or, as another 2016 piece says, FUCK THAT.


—Bridget Gleeson


I’M HAVING A DIALOGUE WITH THE UNIVERSE AND YOU’RE JUST SITTING THERE” is on view at Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, Sept. 8–Oct. 8, 2016.

Follow Joshua Liner Gallery on Artsy.

Share article