Gary Simmons: Downtown Reflections

The New York Artist On the Roots of His Provocative, Pop-Infused Work

Gary Simmons unravels the influence that hi-tops, boom boxes and Public Enemy have had over his work in the latest installment of Matt Black’s Reflections series. Whether depicting the Hollywood sign ablaze or using watercolor varnish on large-scale, apocalyptic landscapes, Simmons twists American iconography with poetic vigor. First gaining art-world fame in the 90s with his “erasure drawings,” using chalkboards found in an abandoned school as canvases, Simmons smudged Disney cartoons with his fingertips to probe misconceptions of class and racial identity. Director Black sat down with him in his Chelsea gallery Metro Pictures—which also represents the likes of Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo and Andy Hope 1930—and was struck by both the intensity of Simmons and the breadth of his work that has shown at MoMA and the Whitney. “We spent the afternoon talking about New York, music, boxing and tattoos,” he says, citing Simmons’ installations “Fuck Hollywood” and “Line Up” as his favorite works, before adding: “In both he uses sneakers to tell a story of America. The result is always both subtle and powerful, with a haunting quality.”

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  • MOST SHARED IN ART
    MOST SHARED IN ART

    Shanzhai Biennial: Dark Optimism

    The Genre-Splicing Artist Trio Subverts Notions of Authenticity and Design at MoMA PS1’s Summer Festival

    Chinese model Wu Ting Ting lip syncs to an opaque cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” while wearing a sequined gown emblazoned with a deliberately misspelled shampoo logo in this new video from Shanzhai Biennial. The New York-based artist trio, comprised of Cyril Duval, Babak Radboy and stylist Avena Gallagher, has described itself as a “multinational brand posing as an art-project posing as an multinational brand posing as a biennial.” Taking inspiration from China’s infamous and rich culture of “Shanzhai” imitation goods—faking products from supermarket stock to high-end luxury items—the project seeks to liberate branding from the obligation to make a sale. “Selling things is always a drag on the aura of a brand,” says Radboy, who also works as Creative Director of Bidoun magazine. For ProBio, a group show curated by Josh Kline as a part of this summer’s large-scale Expo 1: New York at MoMa PS1 that is dedicated to the theme of “dark optimism”, he and Duval, who has exhibited internationally under the moniker Item Idem, reached out to Helen Feng of the Beijing musical act Nova Heart (the “Debbie Harry” of China, as she’s been called) for the Chinese rendition of O’Connor’s 90s classic, which they adapted from an amateur online production. “The relevance of the song is right there in the title,” says Radboy. “We were searching desperately for a version in Mandarin and finally found a recording on an obscure and outdated Chinese social networking site by a pretty busted looking queen in his 40s—so there are four levels of separation there.” The result couldn’t be truer to the illogical form embodied in Shanzhai products. “It’s a very Shanzhai production!,” says Duval.

    ProBio, part of EXPO 1: New York, is on view at MoMA PS1 through September 2, 2013.

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  • On Replay
    On Replay

    Mike Brodie: A Period of Juvenile Prosperity

    America's "Polaroid Kidd” Reveals Raw Shots of Youth Living in Transit and Off the Grid

    Train-jumping, hitch-hiking, and trudging through edgelands are the primary modes of transport chosen by photographer Mike Brodie and his itinerant young subjects in A Period of Juvenile Prosperity. Documenting Brodie’s traveling community of freedom-seeking adolescents as they bushwhack through the ‘burbs and backwaters of the United States, this new image series will feature in simultaneous shows at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York and M+B in Los Angeles and appear in a monograph published by Twin Palms. Shot spontaneously between 2004 and 2009 across 46 states and over 50,000 formative miles, these photographs have already earned the Arizona-born Brodie a 2007 Baum Award for emerging photographers and a museum exhibition in Massachusetts and California. In the meantime Brodie turned his focus towards becoming a mobile diesel mechanic, trading in the SX-70 Time-Zero film that earned him the moniker “The Polaroid Kidd” for the silver 1993 Dodge Ram truck out of which he now works. “I like machinery, big wheels and engines and dirt and grime and industry,” he says. “The things that turn the wheels of America.” 

    What made you choose these subjects initially?
    Mike Brodie: It was intuitive—something told me that the world of the train riders was important. I knew I only had one chance to get the photos because soon they would grow up and so would I. Now I don’t want to ride trains anymore.

    What have been some of the most compelling places to photograph?
    MB: The train bridge that spans Escambia Bay just as your leaving Pensacola, Florida to the east—it’s just beautiful and nostalgic in all the right ways. Also New Orleans, Louisiana. Historically it’s always been a place where travelers congregate but after Hurricane Katrina it opened itself even more. Lots of abandoned spaces and a strange freedom to do whatever you want—people’s imaginations can really run wild there. 

    Have you since interacted with your old friends?
    MB: Last night at my opening at Yossi Milo, a fellow train rider came and expressed that, despite the fact that I’ve elevated these photos and this culture into the spotlight this way, I’m respected within the traveling community. This meant a lot to me—it’s nice to know that I’m part of something bigger and more important than myself. It’s fuckin’ real.

    A Period of Juvenile Prosperity will be on view at Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, and M+B Los Angeles, through May 11. The accompanying monograph is available now from Twin Palms, and in a limited artists edition from TWB. 

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