June 6, 2017

Roger Brown: Estate Paintings at Kavi Gupta @ Hyperallergic

Usually I just repost and keep it moving, but I’m proud of this piece and want to offer you extra encouragement to read it. It’s not just about Roger Brown or politics, but a subject near and dear to my heart: authorship. Enjoy!

CHICAGO — The tendency of Pop artists to collect objects makes perfect sense: their practice is rooted in absorbing and remixing the available culture. At Kavi Gupta gallery, a retrospective pairs Roger Brown: Estate Paintings, a selection of paintings and sculptures by the seminal Imagist artist, with Collecting came quite natural for me, a series of recreated assemblages of objects in Brown’s personal collections from his home in La Conchita, California; they were part of his estate donated to the gallery (and other arts organizations) following his death in 1997. Brown was a voracious collector of outsider art and cultural ephemera, and the eclectic tableaux on the second floor at Kavi Gupta contain a great deal of information that bears directly on his playful and cartoony paintings on the first.

With recurring themes of political alliance and espionage, callouts of celebrity culture, and a motif of tall buildings populated by indistinct figures, Brown’s visual lexicon feels remarkably prescient of our current moment. Perhaps this is because, as a queer man living through the devastating 1980s AIDS crisis, Brown witnessed many of the failures and intentional cruelties of the systems of US governance that are only now being recognized by mainstream society. In this way, art made by artists who come from marginalized populations might be treated as a prognosticator for issues that will become central to society. It’s impossible to look at such late works by Brown as “The War We Won” (1991), with its quartet of grinning politicians, or the environmentally pointed “Landscape With Dollar Sign” (1991) and not see the hot-button issues of our era — to say nothing of the haunting echoes in his repeated images of burning or crumbling skyscrapers.

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