Contributed by Jared Hoffman / “Various Artists,” Pop Gun Gallery’s current group show, ostensibly invites art fans to glimpse the future in works by some rather big names: Jordon Wolfson, Kim Gordon, Joe Bradley, and Mike Kelley. But not all is what it seems. The show, organized by Jacob Patrick Brooks and Gunner Dongieux for the artist-run, DIY gallery, starts by gently wrong-footing viewers. Four of Brooks’s large, slick oil paintings appear, each riffing on the phrase: “Glamour, it’s back.” In successive iterations, Brooks eases the phrase into abstract scenes, pushing large brush strokes into soft forms. A bit of Lois Dodd is felt in his color palette. The paintings give me the feeling of sipping tea in a Danish wood.
Scattered around these abstract paintings is a mishmash of works, none of which is easily recognized as a Wolfson, a Bradley, or a Gordon. What the heck’s going on here? I’m told the painting of flowers on the shelf is by Jordon Wolfson. Who knew that Wolfson was so interested in the still-life? Except this one is by Jordon Wolfson the Colorado-based realist painter, not Jordon Wolfson the conceptual provocateur from New York. The shell on the pedestal, printed with a landscape of a beach scene and trimmed with gold – that’s by Kim Gordon, founder of the fragrance and home-goods store Gordon Craftworks on the south shore of Long Island, not Kim Gordon, the Sonic Youth rocker turned blue-chip painter. I’ll leave you to decide what to make of Mikey Kelley’s inkjet print and Joseph Bradley’s painting of a bird with silver-leaf on wood.
The prank requires no lying, only a bit of misdirection. The exhibition really does feature works by artists with famous names. The press release really is written by Reilly Davidson. And the ruse poses a serious question: how much of what we value is preconceived – imagined, even? In its platonically ideal form, capitalism lets buyers and sellers meet perfectly in the middle, right at the site of true value. Deceptive gimmicks infuse the process with tension and doubt, and they have made the levers of late-stage capitalism increasingly sticky. As they expand, they throw more sand in the gears.
“Fake it till you make it” was a Millennial rallying cry, the financial sibling of “YOLO,” and it produced the likes of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. Scarcely confined to venture capitalism, the phenomenon is pervasive. Donald Trump’s life work has been about putting faking it and making it into a food processor and repackaging the slurry as covfefe presumed to be valuable just because he produced it. We may also be on the cusp of a gimmick revolution by dint of Artificial Intelligence, which could accelerate the abject breakdown of shared meaning. It’s the nuclear bomb of faking it, rendering possible if not probable the artist capable of perfect forgeries and the writer capable of limitless imitation. The genie is still in the bottle, but barely. As it escapes, it may continuously upend our sense of certainty about … everything.
Yet if gimmicks can corrode capitalism and muddle our sense of reality, so too do they illuminate the awesome adaptivity of the human species. At a show like “Various Artists,” art transcends questions of right and wrong and brings us face to face with our underlying assumptions about the world. By blanketing us in artifice, the show unexpectedly offers a chance to reflect in a great mirror. As with new technology, if we avoid falling into it, then real progress can perhaps begin. Now let me go have my tea.
“Various Artists,” Pop Gun Gallery, 75 East Broadway, New York, NY. Through Oct 5, 2023.
About the author: Jared Hoffman is an artist, writer, and filmmaker based in Harlem. He is currently working on a MFA in documentary film at CCNY.