Dan Colen and Nate Lowman’s collaboration at Maccarone has the look of now. Which is to say their show is a self-conscious pastiche of Warhol, Cady Noland’s junked-up approach, Richard Prince, quasi-slacker neo-punk, scuzz, stock ideas about mass culture, appropriation, assemblage and a sort of car-wreck esthetic. It’s a new hip academy.
That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Colen, who in January 2007 appeared on the cover of New York magazine, in bed in his underpants with two other male artists, is known for his superrealist renderings of bird droppings (there’s a great one at Deitch Projects right now) and graffiti. Lowman is noted for his impressive handmade paintings of bullet holes and advertising. Along with Dash Snow and Terence Koh, they’re hotshots on the scene. Each on his own is good at this mannered nonstyle. But their show, while roguish, is merely occupying a well-defined position. A heat-seeking art world, mindlessly drawn to the familiar, has deemed that current art should look this way, so more art does. That’s part of the bad thing.
Like so many recent exhibitions (numbing swaths of the Whitney Biennial, portions of the New Museum’s "Unmonumental") the Colen-Lowman outing resembles a disheveled rec room. The palette du jour in these shows is black-and-white, black-and-silver, monochrome, Day-Glo, or printer’s colors like magenta and cyan applied mechanically or in intentionally messy ways. Posters, gaffer’s tape, magazine pages and found objects are placed about. Images are usually derived from newspapers, ads or porn. Text and jokes often appear (à la Richard Prince); holes are often bashed in walls; Sheetrock and plywood are broken up and spray painted. Noland’s ideas about sculpture and Prince’s about appropriation are so prevalent that those artists ought to be drawing royalties.
Much of this work takes visual cues from the photographs that appeared in art magazines of the ‘60s and ‘70s, translating that smudgy halftone quality to three dimensions. These artists seem to want to crawl into the skins of Gordon Matta-Clark and Robert Smithson, whose work did intrusive things to the large and familiar, and a preapproved roster from the so-called "greatest generation." It’s a cool school based on an older cool school, and it gains attention the way a child of a celebrity does. Many artists of this stripe went to art school and have apparently internalized the beliefs of their teachers, using strategies common when those instructors were young. They’re making art in ways that their teachers thought art should be made. This is an Oedipal-esthetic feedback loop, a death wish. Some of this art is good. Most of it already looks very dated, or will soon.
Colen and Lowman’s effort is titled "Wet Pain," perhaps referencing "wet paint" or Brice Marden’s remark that "painting says pain in it." The first things you see are a car engine on a wheeled platform and a smashed-up 1971 Jaguar filled with electronic gear that continually plays the instrumental "Tequila." Once you size up their wreck, it emits almost no content and isn’t even visually riveting. The rest of the show comes on fast, sexy and cheeky, but then fades fast into flippancy.
There is (or was; the piece has gone back to the collector) a grungy towel with the words "Life’s a Beach" by a painting that says "And then you die." So we get a spoof or a sight gag made out of a found object and a painted one. But the materials, abjectness and jokiness feel indebted to Martin Kippenberger and Mike Kelley, and end up being pointless. Similarly, a photo of a smiling Josh Hartnett in his shorts seems more like Karen Kilimnik’s early work than anything else. A set of shiny mag wheels brings to mind Prince’s use of the same objects; a picture of some Disney books with crack pipes is an inane mix of goodness and badness. A rendition of a red Kabbalah bracelet skewers boomers’ searching for their inner mystics, and a graffitilike painting, titled Sarah Morris (Brice Marden) or Bill Clinton, has the caption "dude it’s about your mama." At least that one can make you chuckle.
The problem is, "Wet Pain" just looks too much like too many other shows -- many of them excellent, some at Maccarone -- to be taken as anything other than bad-boy shtick and hammy caricature. It radiates hipness and camaraderie, and is a warning that artists need to be wary of the point where influence turns into derivativeness. The Noland-Prince esthetic stem-cell line isn’t the only one available for use. (Nor, by the way, is the Smithson–Matta-Clark one.) As for Warhol, we all love him, or we don’t. Regardless, artists needn’t continually deploy his play-the-system anti-gambit. It was once brave; now it’s just a conformist pose, and a lazy and self-limiting one.
Dan Colen & Nate Lowman, "Wet Pain," Mar. 28-Apr. 26, 2008, at Maccarone, 630 Greenwich Street, New York, N.Y. 10014.
JERRY SALTZ is senior art critic for New York Magazine, where this article first appeared. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org