Team (gallery, inc.) is pleased to announce its participation at Art Basel Hong Kong. For this edition of the fair, the gallery has chosen to mount a solo presentation by the American Sam McKinniss.
McKinniss has rather appropriately entitled this selection of some thirty paintings and sixty drawings, made during nearly all of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, Hong Kong Garden. Throughout this body of work, the artist moves effortlessly across genres – reinventing artworks by Henri Fantin-Latour and Norman Rockwell and painting decisive moments from pop history such as the radicalized moment when Sinead O’Conner tore up a photograph of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, derailing a very promising career. In McKinniss’s Garden, Princess Diana’s car crash shares the stage with Lorde’s Twitter avatar and Anna Wintour trades looks with a young Christina Ricci. In the works on view, McKinniss fuels a collapse of genre, attacking conceptions of classification, hierarchy and authenticity.
The structuring agent for McKinniss’s presentation is the work of Henri Fantin-Latour who practiced in France primarily during the second half of the 19th Century, painting the prominent personalities of his day: artists, poets and musicians. Later in his career, he devoted himself to lithographs generally inspired by themes and subjects from great musical works. Across this oeuvre, not only does one find a disregard for a unifying type of painting, one finds a fairly promiscuous approach to style. Although he repeatedly brushed against greatness – worked in Courbet’s studio, exhibited with Degas and Manet, friends with Ingres and Delacroix, championed by Whistler — he remains a marginalized figure in art history, primarily known for the flower paintings which so many people, whether publicly or privately, adore.
McKinniss first encountered Fantin-Latour, as a great many of our contemporaries did, through New Order’s LP Power, Corruption and Lies. For this commercial project, the British art director Peter Saville built the album’s cover around a Fantin-Latour still-life; a gesture which overlayed Saville’s graphical elements over the conservative French painter’s work, creating a defining and galvanic détournement for the post-punk generation.
McKinniss, like Latour, paints celebrities from the arts, primarily focusing on figures from popular music like Rihanna and Lana Del Rey and actors from films that have been touchstones for McKinniss, among them Thelma and Louise and Edward Scissorhands. But most tellingly to the manner in which McKinniss sources imagery is the painting Threesome (Xavier, Amy and Jordan). Derived from a promotional image for Gregg Araki’s 1995 film The Doom Generation, the painting depicts three personages who appear on the verge of locking into a kiss. The central figure, played in the film by the actress Rose McGowan, is brightly lit, unlike her companions, and the painting’s focal point is her red-painted mouth. The painting – sensuous and electrifying – is McKinniss’s evocation of the #metoo moment, making of McGowan a figure for art history.
Being shown for the first time are McKinniss’s large-scale grids, each comprised of thirty framed drawings. Through the grids, a viewer can access a crucial element of McKinniss’s practice, the diaristic manner in which one work leads to, and informs, another. Events from recent news cycles are conjoined with studies of classical themes, while loose compositional studies are paired with tight renderings. Images toyed with and then rejected are presented alongside drawings that clearly led to the paintings on view.
Among the paintings on view is his reinterpretation of a Fantin-Latour self-portrait, a painting whose success hinges on McKinniss’s uncanny ability to ape Latour’s painting style so handily. His practice of replicating and reinventing the work of Fantin-Latour acts as a signpost to his fascination with pastiche. McKinniss’s understanding of the term aligns most closely with Richard Dyer’s view that “Pastiche is not something superficial, disconnected from the real, and, especially, from feeling. It is rather a knowing form of the practice of imitation, which itself always both holds us inexorably, within cultural perception of the real and also, and thereby, enables us to make a sense of the real.” Pastiche “demonstrates that self-consciousness and emotional expression can co-exist, healing one of the great rifts in Western aesthetics and allowing us to contemplate the possibility of feeling historically.”
This will mark the gallery’s 64th, and final, appearance at an art fair.