Gary Simmons creates art that clarifies by blurring the lines

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Remember Honey, or Bosko, or the talkative crows in Dumbo? Probably not, as these were characters and animated features whose heyday dates back generations and who have been quietly left out of the canon lately due to their racism. All the more reason for their revival by the painter and sculptor Gary Simmons, who uses pop culture as raw material but is not at all a pop artist. With a shady glee and wit and post-AbEx flair, Simmons has spent decades delving into American history, particularly through the prism of art and music, looking for dark corners to illuminate, stories to challenge and/or recover, and impactful cultural experiences to share in community.

Gary Simmons: Honey Typer, 2021. Oil and cold wax on canvas, 84 x 108 in (Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jeff McLane)

In a series of new paintings, a sculptural installation, and an itinerant, expanding set providing space for cross-disciplinary activations, Simmons presents a series of new works on canvas that exist as counterfactual still images of animations featuring these characters. issues and others. Their faces and vintage style remain extra and uncomfortable, but in the world of paintings, they live their best, happiest, and meanest life. Because of the way they’re rendered and made, it’s hard to be sure if the smudged scenes are forming or disintegrating – and isn’t that always the question these days?

The exhibition also includes four new monumental site-specific murals that further highlight Simmons’ recurring motif and metaphor of concentration and erasure. On a crisp floor of chalkboard paint that effectively envelops the entire cavernous room, the white chalk drawings embody their own guided entropy and are a constant reminder of the artist’s hand and presence. Always conceived as compositions of residual traces, containing even in their empty forms the echoes of what happened there, forever threatening new disappearances, these drawings are breathtaking in their evocative clarity.

Gary Simmons: The Lumber Jack, 2021. Oil and cold wax on canvas, 108 x 120 in. (Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jeff McLane)

There is massive cognitive dissonance generated by the elusive cartoonish, nostalgic images and the slow-motion violence of the rough gestural surface of their partially erased smears, not to mention the flatness of the drawing against the topographic textures of their surfaces. This is amplified in the uncanny tension between the paintings’ intimate black-and-white sketchbook aesthetic and their large-scale staging. Simmons would like you to take that same energy of dissonance and apply it to a deeper understanding of how insidiously and in deceptively innocent forms, racism has been presented in cultural venues where you least expect it – like classic cartoons and even (especially?) the classroom.

Installation view: Gary Simmons. Remembering Tomorrow, at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2022 (Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jeff McLane)

In You can paint on me but I’ll always be here, Simmons curates a suite of school cafeteria tables in various stages of folding. Tables were painted a crisp teal to ineffectively conceal the proliferation of graffiti and other spirited acts of vandalism below; a murder of crows in stockinged hats is perched all over the tables. Simultaneously funny and sinister and, like so many of Simmons’ works indirect and paradoxical in that they elicit emotions and trigger memories, the work guides the audience through its stages – curiosity and recognition, joyous remembrance and slow realization. More than a context for calling out the racist tropes in Disney’s crows, the gesture’s placement in a public education setting blames the entire cultural system for bigotry that goes unchecked, but arguably makes the most damage.

Gary Simmons: Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark, 2014-ongoing. 11 handmade speakers, scrap wood, paint and electrical components, variable dimensions. (Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jeff McLane)

The last work in the exhibition occupies the outer courtyard of the gallery. Recover Black Ark Memories (2014 – ongoing) is a traveling work that grows and changes both by absorbing materials and offering its theatrical platform to the communities where it appears. A warm, vintage yet somewhat futuristic DIY of speakers and amps, the stacked sculpture and its literal/figurative platform were originally constructed from materials salvaged from the ravages of Katrina and presented at the biennale. New Orleans Prospect.3. He has since traveled to Miami, San Francisco and Coachella Valley’s Desert X. When first visited in Los Angeles, the facility is the site of many Saturday afternoon public activations and performances – a fine antidote to the disappointing truth of some Saturday morning cartoons. .

On view through May 22 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles in the downtown arts district; hauserwirth.com.

Gary Simmons: Star Chaser, 2022. Paint and chalk on wall, 144 x 519 in (Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jeff McLane)

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