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Review: A Shared Space

Artists KAWS, Karl Wirsum and Tomoo Gokita in a group show at Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Museum



If Halloween didn't sate your craving for things dark and creepy, you might want to drop by the Newcomb Art Museum and catch some surprisingly spooky art while burnishing your credentials as an aesthete. Despite its contemporary and civilized veneer, A Shared Space: KAWS, Karl Wirsum and Tomoo Gokita, curated by Monica Ramirez-Montagut, exudes a dark aura that harks to the excesses of expressionism, pop culture and technology. Some of the figures suggest the sorts of mutations that might have been spawned by Disney World in the aftermath of an atomic apocalypse. For instance, New York artist KAWS' 16-foot-tall sculpture Companion evokes a monstrous mutant Mickey Mouse holding his head in his hands as if mourning the demise of childhood. Or maybe he's just suffering from a form of digital dementia caused by acute Photoshop poisoning.

Digital technology allows everyone to modify everything for good or ill, but the early 1960s art movement known as Chicago Imagism presaged many of the more extravagant exaggerations that now characterize all things digital. Its influence continues today in founding member Karl Wirsum's alluring painted freak shows — in works like his hypnotically demonic fever dream Throw a Wait Line Proof of Purse Chase (pictured). Just what is it about Chicago redheads, anyway? Scary stuff.

  If Wirsum takes his cues from the art of the insane, Tomoo Gokita came to sex and horror naturally as the son of the editor of the Japanese edition of Playboy magazine. Maybe its food coloring-hued skin tones and airbrushed body parts caused him to rebel into a realm of black-and-white anatomical grotesquerie. Speechless depicts a couple posed in a casual embrace. Their flashy demeanor reflects the assertively affluent hedonism long championed by Playboy — except for the deep, dark voids where their heads should be. Playboy was born in Chicago almost simultaneously with the Imagist movement. The magazine is shedding nude photos, but the legacy of Chicago Imagism lives on.

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