Jonathan Horowitz Reflects on the History of Pop Art and the Paradoxes of Pop Culture

Jonathan Horowitz emerged shortly after the untimely death of Andy Warhol, the progenitor of the movement that the younger artist carried forward into the 21st century, in his own way: Pop Art. Horowitz turns a gimlet eye on our political, celebrity, and consumer culture, absorbing its bright and dubious imagery into his own visual idiom, then tweaking it to reveal its underlying insidiousness. A selection of the artist’s recent meditations on contemporary culture, alongside his playful considerations of his art historical roots, are currently on view at Xavier Hufkens in “Jonathan Horowitz: Plants, Mirrors, Coke/Pepsi Paintings and More.” Here, houseplants, mirrors, and cans of cola are much more than what they seem—and much less innocuous.

Punctuating the exhibition is a series of seemingly identical paintings, based upon Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day-dotted representation of a mirror, Mirror #2. In homage to Lichtenstein’s conflation of the mass reproduced and the handmade, and in an attempt to posit a place for the handmade in our super-digitized world, Horowitz gave his studio assistants a printed image of Mirror #2 and tasked them with its faithful reproduction. They complied, and failed, much to his satisfaction. Rather than a series of exact copies, each painting bears the inevitable imprint of its maker’s hand, serving as a form of self-portraiture, and suggesting that behind every image, even the most slickly commercial, there is a human maker. This argument is extended in the artist’s semi-abstract, expressionistic paintings of a houseplant, which appear as diverse variations on a single theme.

It is easy to forget that there are people behind brands like Coke and Pepsi, which seem to have emerged independently from the primal soup of American consumer culture and have long been fodder for Horowitz. He addresses the paradoxes and politics of their ongoing brand rivalry in a new series of ink-on-vinyl paintings in the exhibition. A number of these works are diptychs, in which the artist places Pepsi’s brand ambassador (Beyoncé) next to Coke’s (Santa Claus, polar bears) to highlight the overwhelming sameness of their messaging and approach, and the uncanny similarities between their subtly aggressive tone and American flag colors. “[On] my desk I have a can of Coke and a can of Pepsi that I attached together with a section of plastic six-pack rings,” Horowitz once explained. “That, I think, I got just right.”

Jonathan Horowitz: Plants, Mirrors, Coke/Pepsi Paintings and More” is on view at Xavier Hufkens May 15 – June 21, 2014.

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