Jim Shaw and the Vortex of Pop Iconography

February 5, 2015

The art of Jim Shaw (b. 1952) is distilled from the flotsam and jetsam of a quintessential boyhood, the ephemera of American pop, social, and consumer culture. Chameleonic in style and skilled in mediums ranging from drawing and painting to sculpture and video, Shaw—like the late Mike Kelley, Shaw’s longtime friend, fellow CalArts graduate, and band-mate in “anti’rock” group Destroy 
All Monsters—creates work that is dense with references and allusive images. Shaw mines both his memory and an astonishing trove of pedestrian artifacts—comic books, news clippings, “Rat Fink” trading cards, obsessive religious tracts, film and concert posters, advertising—that he has amassed since his youth. From this material, Shaw crafts units of narrative that are sometimes discrete, but more frequently serve as paragraphs and chapters in an epic of existence. Shaw “creates a munificent bounty of things that rivet us,” the critic and artist Doug Harvey has written. His work embodies “a conscious and conscientious willingness to engage contemporary culture in all its rippling, crackling, exponentially expanding and incomprehensible totality.”

Lot 121, Jim Shaw Untitled ("Burma-Shave/Torture is Barbaric...") c. 1988

Jim Shaw, Untitled (“Burma-Shave/Torture is Barbaric…”), c. 1988
To be offered in the March 1, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

The present lots show Shaw at both his pithiest and most expansive. Untitled (“Burma-Shave/Torture is Barbaric… “) (c. 1988) appropriates a Charles Addams cartoon to present a self-contained narrative that imparts a political and humanistic message. Objects of Desire (1989) is at once a discrete artwork and a piece in a larger narrative titled “My Mirage,” a kaleidoscopic, multimedia Bildungsroman that Shaw executed from 1986 to 1991.

Lot 122, Jim Shaw Objects of Desire 1989

Jim Shaw, Objects of Desire, 1989
To be offered in the March 1, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Comprised of some 170 works—drawings, photographs, paintings, silkscreens, video— “My Mirage” documents the story of Shaw’s alter-ego, Billy, a middle-class, middle-American kid tossed about in the cultural maelstrom of the ’60s and ’70s. With its intricately and exuberantly-rendered vortex of pop iconography and consumer goods that range from cake mix and candy to Band-Aids and liquor bottles, Objects of Desire is a rare, if not unique thing: a tour-de-force within a tour-de-force.

Shaw, Jim, Noëllie Roussel, and Fabrice Stroun. Jim Shaw: Everything Must Go, 1974–1999. Luxembourg: Casino Luxembourg, Forum D’art Contemporain, 1999. Print. Kertess, Klaus. Recent Drawing: Roni Horn, Charles Ray, Jim Shaw, Mike Tetherow. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1990. Print. Harvey, Doug. “Punks Out of the Past: Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, and Destroy All Monsters.” Modern Painters Mar. 2012: 52-59. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

Lot 121
Jim Shaw
Untitled (“Burma-Shave/Torture is Barbaric…”)
c. 1988
Ink on paper
Signed in pencil verso
Sheet (vis.): 8.375″ x 13.125″; Frame: 12.125″ x 17.125″
Estimate: $4,000 – $6,000

Lot 122
Jim Shaw
Objects of Desire
Graphite on paper
Retains a Whitney Museum of Art exhibition label verso; retains a University Art Museum at U.C. Berkeley exhibition label verso
Sheet: 17″ x 14″; Frame: 25.5″ x 22″
Exhibited: “Recent Drawings,” The Whitney Museum of Art, New York, February 16-May 6, 1990; “My Mirage,” traveling exhibition, Matrix Gallery, University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley; St. Louis Museum of Art, St. Louis; Feature Inc., New York, 1990
Estimate: $15,000 – $20,000

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