I want there to be things in my work that people can access, but also hidden secrets.
Over the past three decades, Jim Shaw has responded to American cultural history through painting, drawing, and sculpture. He has found inspiration in comic books, pulp novels, rock albums, protest posters, and amateur paintings; his ever-growing collection of found artworks has also been the subject of several exhibitions in its own right. Often unfolding in extended narrative cycles marked by repetition and cross-reference, Shaw’s works juxtapose images of friends and family with those depicting world events, pop-cultural phenomena, and alternative realities, blending the personal, the commonplace, and the visionary. Committed to undoing any sense of aesthetic or ideological purity, Shaw has turned consistently to his own life—particularly his unconscious mind—as a source of inspiration.
Shaw was born in 1952 in Midland, Michigan, and lives and works in Los Angeles. In 1971, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he met artist Mike Kelley. The pair would sometimes advertise fake lectures, treating attendees to “guerilla style” performances instead. In 1974, Shaw graduated from UM with a BFA and cofounded proto-punk band Destroy All Monsters (DAM) with filmmaker Cary Loren and artist Niagara. At the time, Shaw lived with Kelley in a house they named “God’s Oasis,” which served as the band’s rehearsal space. He later contributed to an eponymous zine, Destroy All Monsters Magazine, published by Loren between 1976 and 1979, that explored the mythology of DAM still further. In 1978, Shaw earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts; he then worked in the film industry before gaining recognition as a visual artist in the mid-1980s.
In the late 1970s, Shaw drew inspiration from William Burroughs—who would become an ongoing influence—and his “cut-up” technique of textual collage to begin Distorted Faces, a series of portrait paintings and drawings in which the features of celebrities and politicians, friends and strangers are twisted into their monstrous doubles. His first major project, My Mirage (1986–91), was a more complex undertaking. A series of 170 images rendered in a variety of styles, it traces the adventures of a middle-class white boy named Billy—Shaw’s alter ego—as he experiences sex, drugs, rock and roll, and religion in 1960s and ’70s America. Another series, Dream Drawings (1992–99), presents uncanny scenes, derived from the artist’s own dream life, in a comic-strip format, while Dream Objects (1994–) manifests selected items from these nocturnal visions as unsettling, cartoonlike sculptures.
Shaw’s ongoing project Oism, which he initiated in the late 1990s, is an artistic attempt to create and promote a functioning religion, complete with its own history and symbolism, rituals and traditions. The enterprise reflects Shaw’s extensive research into the messianic cults active in the Bible Belt and has fueled a kaleidoscopic array of artworks-cum-artifacts. Having grown to include paintings, photographs, sculptures, collages, posters, films, and musical instruments, the accumulation has become even more sophisticated than was originally envisioned, incorporating historical context to arrive at a near-encyclopedic review of abolitionist, evangelical, spiritualist, and utopian currents in American culture.
In 1999, Shaw had his first major European retrospective at the Casino Luxembourg and Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva; the following year, Thrift Store Paintings opened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, revealing entries from his frequently hilarious and horrifying collection of canvases by unknown amateur artists. In 2013, Chalet Society, Paris, presented The Hidden World, another display drawn from his personal archives that focused on “didactic art”—books, flyers, T-shirts, and other artifacts aimed at promoting various wildly eccentric belief systems. In 2015, a sprawling survey exhibition dubbed The End Is Here—its title reprising that of his MFA thesis exhibition at CalArts—opened at the New Museum, New York.
“The Present Decline”: Jim Shaw’s Epic Parables
Catherine Taft examines Jim Shaw’s visionary work, which probes the American psyche through political, historical, and cultural allegory.
Shaw Studio Sing-along Songs
In this Shortlist series we invite artists and writers to tell us about works of art, literature, film, or music that have influenced their work or are at the forefront of their minds today. Here Jim Shaw shares a selection of songs he listens to while working, from new discoveries to childhood staples. Shaw writes of the balance between delight and regret, hope and gloom in his playlist.
A Perfect Storm: Jim Shaw and Conspiratorial Film
In the fall of 2021, in partnership with New York’s Metrograph cinema and Gagosian, Jim Shaw organized a series of six conspiracy-minded films revolving around thorny questions of truth, guilt, fantasy, and innocence, and leading Shaw to revelations about the fringe notion of “frazzledrip.” Here, Natasha Stagg reflects on the movies he chose and on the wider implications of what it means to go down the rabbit hole.
Art Basel Miami Beach 2022
December 1–3, 2022, booth D5
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to present a selection of modern and contemporary works at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Returning to Miami for the fair’s twentieth anniversary, the gallery is honored to have participated each year the fair has been held.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Artwork, left to right: © Gerhard Richter; © Amoako Boafo; © Richard Prince; © 2022 Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Stanley Whitney. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
November 16–22, 2022
Since the 1970s, Jim Shaw has responded to American cultural history through painting, drawing, and sculpture. He draws from sources as wide-ranging as comic books, pulp novels, rock albums, protest posters, and amateur paintings. Often unfolding in extended narrative cycles, Shaw’s works juxtapose images of friends and family with those depicting world events, pop-cultural phenomena, and alternative realities, blending the personal, the commonplace, and the visionary.
Photo: LeeAnn Nickel
West Bund Art & Design 2022
November 11–13, 2022, booth A102
West Bund Art Center, Shanghai
Gagosian is pleased to participate in the ninth edition of West Bund Art & Design. The gallery will present new works made for the fair by Georg Baselitz, Roe Ethridge, Thomas Houseago, Alex Israel, Harmony Korine, Adam McEwen, Jim Shaw, Alexandria Smith, Spencer Sweeney, and Tatiana Trouvé, alongside works by Ashley Bickerton, Urs Fischer, Katharina Grosse, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, Nam June Paik, Richard Prince, Ugo Rondinone, Ed Ruscha, Richard Wright, and Zeng Fanzhi.
Gagosian’s booth at West Bund Art & Design 2022. Artwork, left to right: © Adam McEwen, © Roe Ethridge, © Alex Israel, © Harmony Korine. Photo: JJYPHOTO
April 30–September 4, 2022
Frac Normandie Caen, France
This exhibition brings together a selection of “interior landscapes” and portraits of the world in miniature that share an eccentric or fantastic sensibility, loosely linking them to Surrealism. Work by Jim Shaw and Blair Thurman is included.
Jim Shaw, Anatomy Weird-ohs (Can opener; Blake-St. Sebastian Crystal & Fish Face), 2011, Frac Normandie Caen, France © Jim Shaw. Photo: Clérin-Morin Photographie
Des corps, des écritures
Regards sur l’art d’aujourd’hui
April 20–August 28, 2022
Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris
This exhibition, whose title translates to Bodies, Writings: A Look at Today’s Art, highlights a selection of artworks created between 1973 and 2022 that were recently acquired by the museum. The works on view explore two distinct but organically linked themes: writing as a form or expression, resistance, or testimony; and the body and its representation, particularly in the context of societal changes. Work by Ewa Juszkiewicz and Jim Shaw is included.
Installation view, Des corps, des écritures: Regards sur l’art d’aujourd’hui, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, April 20–August 28, 2022. Artwork, left to right: © Guillaume Maraud, © Jim Shaw. Photo: © Pierre Antoine
Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw
November 18, 2017–February 25, 2018
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing
Against the backdrop of 1960s counterculture, Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw shared a lifelong friendship and common background: an upbringing and education in the state of Michigan. Michigan Stories is the first exhibition to place these artists’ practices alongside each other in historical context, approaching their work as parallel visual meditations on the vernacular cultures—including religious and secular rituals, folk tropes, zines, comic books, secret societies, and conspiracy theories—native to their midwestern upbringing.
Installation view, Michigan Stories: Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, November 18, 2017–February 25, 2018. Artwork © Destroy All Monsters Collective (Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Jim Shaw). Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography, courtesy MSU Broad Art Museum
The End Is Here
October 7, 2015–January 10, 2016
New Museum, New York
The End Is Here presents some of Jim Shaw’s most iconic projects and reveals the breadth and inventiveness of his art. A comprehensive selection of his works is exhibited alongside objects from his collections of vernacular art and religious didactic materials. These instantly recognizable artworks and series—which succeed in reinvigorating and complicating traditional categories such as portraiture, history painting, figuration, and abstraction—have never before been brought together in a single exhibition.
Installation view, Jim Shaw: The End Is Here, New Museum, New York, October 7, 2015–January 10, 2016. Artwork © Jim Shaw. Photo: Maris Hutchinson