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Jim Shaw: An Eerily Accurate Depiction of the Present (And Future?)

Jim Shaw’s solo show at Metro Pictures is dark, satirical, and full of meaningful contradictions. Few artists represent the present political and societal atmosphere better than Shaw. His myriad references can sometimes be opaque, but the feelings of unease and foreboding are very clear.

The exhibition includes a variety of paintings, mixed media, sculpture, drawings and prints. The work as a whole has deep ties to art history, religion, and mythology. The paintings are intriguing in their bizarre portrayal of mismatched parts. Shaw depicts recognizable people and objects doing unrecognizable things. In Mystery Babylon, a crouching woman’s head and torso are replaced by a giant cheeseburger topped with a flag that reads “mystery”. The figure juxtaposes a hazy, old timey house in the background. Consumerism is alive and well, as we literally are what we eat. Other than the obvious, something is most certainly off in the paintings, and it makes them all the more satisfying in the most unsatisfying way.

Shaw also explores three dimensions by adding materials to his paintings. The cross wielding octopi in Three Bells simultaneously ward off sin, and give birth to wooden tchotchkes in muslin bags reminiscent of a wedding favor. Represented is birth, marriage, and death, all in quick succession. This work is morbid, satirical, and visually captivating all at once.

Taking up significant floor space down the hall, and helping transition into the overtly political work, is Wig Man. On multiple occasions I did a double take of the life size sculpture resembling a human figure (but covered in hair), and I half expected it to start moving if I neglected to watch it. This terrifying sculpture is surrounded by political cartoons with numerous references to American history and politics. The final room of the exhibition takes Donald Trump head on; it seems like a pit of despair that this poor faceless creature is trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to escape from.

Trump’s face is drawn in intricate detail in the Trump Distortions. The likeness and exaggerated attributes are perfectly intertwined, whether he is snarling with a giant forehead or smirking with excessively tall and disheveled hair. The larger Trump Chaos prints are dark, frenzied, and full of motion, depicting just what they describe: the chaotic present state of American politics. The prints are layered, textured, and imbued with strong emotion. They pull you in yet make you want to run from the stark confrontation.

The exhibition as a whole is poetic, disturbing, and pointed, all hallmarks of Shaw’s work. The deeply negative and somber undertones comment on the unstableness of society. Shaw offers no solutions but seems to have come to terms with it all. No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot ignore the precarious political climate, and the change (good or bad), that is inevitable in the near future.

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