Extended through March 12, 2016
I am loyal to nothing, General. . . . except the [American] Dream.
Gagosian is pleased to announce an exhibition of Mark Grotjahn’s drawing Untitled (Captain America) (2008–09), first shown at the Kaikai Kiki Gallery in Tokyo in 2010.
In the light of current geopolitical realities and aesthetic debates, Grotjahn’s evocation of Captain America may be timely, if not more than a little ironic. First appearing in the early 1940s, the comic-book hero is a patriotic super-soldier fighting the Axis powers during World War II. Also known as Steve Rogers, a scrawny artist whose body was enhanced to the peak of natural human potential by an experimental serum, Captain America wears a costume that bears a stars-and-stripes motif, a hood emblazoned with an A—for America (or Art?)—and a shield that protects him from all foes. Although he often struggles to maintain his ideals as a man out of time with modern realities, after seventy years he remains a beloved national figure, combating those who espouse ideals contrary to the American Dream, including Nazism, technocratic fascism, and international and domestic terrorism.
In the large-scale, ten-part drawing with its centrifugal radiant motif, Grotjahn synthesizes the comic-book hero into pure, vibrating lines of force in symbolic red, white, and blue. Geometry and process resonate with each other in the razor-sharp perspectival rays and random allover marks—traces of Grotjahn’s tenacious working method, as he moves from one drawing to another—as well as the skeins of acid-yellow calligraphy that surface from time to time, like an Abstract Expressionist palimpsest.
In America, the impact of twentieth-century capitalism on art promoted an increasing fixation with the sign and the series, as evidenced in Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes and Campbell’s Soup Cans, Jasper Johns’s targets and flags, Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures and paintings, to name just a few examples. With his Sign Exchange project of 1993–98, Grotjahn aligned himself with this astute mixture of readymade and artisanal, and high and low art, replacing the homemade signs of local shopkeepers with his own handpainted copies, and exhibiting the shop originals as his own artwork.
Almost concurrently, he began working on a stream of densely worked colored-pencil drawings with radiant motifs, focusing on perspectival investigations of dual and multiple vanishing points, techniques used since the Renaissance to create the illusion of depth and volume on a two-dimensional surface. In the Butterfly drawings, the motif appears as a more organic iteration of its perspectival precedent. Anchored to sloping vertical lines, the closely adjacent, triangular shapes achieve a vital dynamism, animated with a kaleidoscopic flutter. These formalist compositions of complex asymmetries and glowing, tonal color allude to the multiple narratives coursing through the history of modernism, from the utopian visions of Russian Constructivism to the hallucinatory images of Op art. The disruptive presence of errant marks and smudges across the surface of each drawing introduces a sense of active contingency into compositions that are otherwise highly controlled.
In addition to the multitudes of individual compositions, Grotjahn has produced several magisterial sequential drawings, consistent with the modernist fascination with serial iteration as free, constructive becoming. The multipanel pencil drawing, Untitled (Dancing Black Butterflies) (2007), proposes a sort of formal and historical endgame, an enlivened dance of death for the butterfly motif, the normally rainbow-hued “wings” here pared back to Suprematist black. Conversely, Untitled (Captain America), Grotjahn’s most monumental drawing series to date, dazzles with the explosive energies of its tricolor motif pulsing across the gallery walls.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by David Anfam.
A concurrent exhibition of Grotjahn’s Sign Exchange project (1993–98) will be presented at Karma, New York, from January 9 through February 7, 2016.
New Capri, Capri, Free Capri
October 30–December 22, 2018
West 24th Street, New York
June 24–September 17, 2016
Grosvenor Hill, London
September 13–October 27, 2012
980 Madison Avenue, New York
May 30–July 31, 2009
Britannia Street, London