Monday, June 30, 2008

(06.30.08) Recommends:

Life Is Beautiful, An Exhibition of the Art of Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash aka MBW.

From what we understand, MBW is a French filmmaker who was working on a documentary film on street art. At some point he abandoned the project, or put it on hold, and tried his hand at creating "street art" himself. This is his first exhibition.

We enjoyed this exhibition; in fact, we have now seen it on multiple occasions (including during the ridiculously entertaining opening night reception/party). We think everybody in LA who is interested in street art or indie art or modern art would get something from checking out the exhibition. If nothing else, one walks away impressed with the sheer size of it: the space is an old CBS television studio, and both levels of the studio, as well as a substantial court yard, are filled to the brim with art.

We were certainly impressed -- blown away, frankly -- at the ambitiousness of the exhibition. But we cannot decide whether MBW's work, as individual pieces, is compelling, or if the work becomes compelling when displayed on such a large scale. We are not art critics by training (we're not even amateur art critics), but we are going to attempt to blog through this question regardless.

[Note: If you are not interested in reading a self-indulgent, rambling, uncalled for stab at art criticism -- and we suspect this is the majority of you -- scroll down below. There are pictures! You've been warned.]

In the press reports on MBW, comparisons to Banksy and Shepard Fairey are often bandied about. We are only familiar with Banksy's stencil work, and since we didn't really notice any stencils in the show, we don't really see the comparison.

We get the Shepard Fairey comparison to a limited extent. Both artists are into reinterpreting iconic figures. Both obviously bring a profoundly artistic vision and bent to their work. But we are also struck by a difference. Shepard Fairey is, above all else, a designer. His work is always intricately crafted and aesthetically pleasing; his pieces are simply a pleasure to look at. We imagine you could hang one of his pieces in your house -- even one of, say, a gigantic Andre the Giant head -- and the lettering and the bordering and the overall look of the piece would be such that when a guest noticed it hanging, the first reaction wouldn't be, "oh, you must be an Andre the Giant fan," but rather, "oh, that print is pretty to look at; it's so cool."

MBW, as we've mentioned, is a filmmaker. So he still brings that creative eye that sets him apart from the non-creatively inclined. But, on the whole, we do not find his individual pieces nearly as compelling as, say, Shepard Fairey (please understand that we understand that such comparison adds no value to any conversation; it's like saying "I don't find the Strokes nearly as compelling as the Beatles." (yes we like both the Strokes and the Beatles, no, we're not saying Shepard Fairey is the Beatles or MBW is the Strokes; it's why we encouraged you to skip this entire section).

Perhaps the print that people will eventually most associated MBW with, is a re-interpretation of Andy Warhol's classic series of Marilyn Monroe. MBW keeps the hair and general face structure, but adds the faces of random members of pop culture: Spock, Larry King, Michael Jackson, even a trio of John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama (which can be seen on a billboard at Sunset and Gower, in the building that houses the exhibition).

But, as opposed to, say, a single Obey Giant print, each single MBW Marilyn Monroe spin-off seems a bit of a novelty. Like, we can imagine them being sold at one of those touristy shops that sell t-shirts of varying degrees of offensiveness (you know the kind of t-shirt shops we're talking about, right? The t-shirts usually have references to sexual proclivity or drunkenness or drugs; there's almost always an entire Bob Marley section; the rage at these shops during the primary season was an Obama/Clinton shirt adorned with the slogan "bros before hos" etc. etc.). And we imagine if you hung a single one of these in your house, a guest's first reaction would more likely to be "oh, you must really like [fill-in-the-name-of-the-person-substituted-for-Marilyn Monroe]!" or "oh, you must have a wacky sense of humor!" rather than "oh, that's really pretty!"

But somehow, when there's an entire hallway filled with these Marilyn Monroe spin-offs, it works. It's like this with a lot of the exhibition. The pieces are a bit repetitive, but there's something about the mass scale that creates a pleasant effect that we're not sure individual pieces could muster.

So we imagine this will be the primary question that comes out of the exhibition: It works en masse, but can it work on an individual scale?

[Note II: this ends the gratuitous (& quasi & pseudo & uncalled for) art criticism.]

One piece that absolutely floored us was the below Run DMC piece. When we first walked into the room, we thought it was simply a painting of Run DMC, which would fit into the "random cultural icon" motif. We chuckled. But then we moved closer to the painting. Only to realize that it was not a painting. But rather, was made of broken chunks of vinyl records. We stood in front of it, mouths agape, for several minutes. We would move closer, then further away from it. Trying to figure out how it works. We're still not sure how MBW pulled this off, but it's instantly become one of our favorite pieces of art.

Ultimately, say what you will about this exhibition and MBW. But it's pretty hard to disagree with the following:


For more information on exhibition dates and hours:
Life Is Beautiful website.

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