Summer 2010

‘Art from the New World’

Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery

Bristol, England

Through August 22

This winning show of 49 artists based in the United States should solidify Bristol’s reputation as a hipster haven, following last year’s successful Banksy exhibition at the same museum. Near the entrance stands a 15-foot-tall inflatable ice-cream cone emblazoned with the slogan “Lick It Up!” It’s a fitting message for an exhibit that features a sampling of urban artists who are gulping down influences from Old Masters to Murakami more quickly than they’re able to digest them. Weighted heavily toward painting, the art here is mostly fun and energetic, if at times a bit earnest. Some of the pieces succeed brilliantly. And some, like the ice-cream cone and two other works by street artist Buff Monster, comment cleverly on the ways in which mass culture filters our dreams and desires.

Gary Baseman, who makes everything from cartoons to costumes to piñatas, stands out with The Bubble Girl (2009), a beguiling painting of a towering, over-the-top Carmen Miranda festooned in white balloons. Close Friend (2010), by the artist known as Coop, takes Courbet’s notorious The Origin of the World and reconfigures it in a hard-edged style that brings to mind Roy Lichtenstein. Eric Joyner’s mash-up of robots and doughnuts called Disrupted (2010) has an air of Wayne Thiebaud. Together these works remind us just how unwieldy the concept of Pop has become.

Other painters use a painterly, fine-art technique to create darkly humorous or unsettling narratives. Gretchen Ryan’s Little Miss America (2010) shows a pre-pubescent girl standing astride a city with a gaze that is both sexualized and vulnerable, while Natalia Fabia’s Wet Tea Party (2010) features women holding teacups in a hot tub and a Damien Hirst-style, bejewelled skull looking straight at the viewer.

Michael Mararian and Joshua Petker present simply beautiful paintings with ambiguous takes on portraiture. Like most of the artists here, they make work that seems to come from the surface of their imagination. But, for some, what a surface it is.

– -Roger Atwood