July 13-August 29, 2023
Alexander Berggruen is pleased to present Levity. This exhibition will open Thursday, July 13 with a reception from 5-7 pm at the gallery (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3, New York, NY).
Included within Levity are works by:
Caleb Hahne Quintana
Stephanie H. Shih
Irony, mirth, the absurd, the evolving image of cartoon, and even darker, but amusing reads of the human condition can serve as winking entry points into our contemporary discourse. Humor elicits a bodily reaction from a viewer, implicating the audience to expose incongruent ideas and to welcome them into comfort and critique. This group exhibition aims to contextualize contemporary artists with a few key examples of work by more historic counterparts through an effervescent lens. The artists in Levity approach their work playfully, as some find jovial gratification in the everyday, hyperbolize a quality of a character or situation, toy with idioms and quirks in communication, and address weighty issues in a buoyant manner.
Cleverly pursuing everyday amusement, numerous artists in Levity reveal the joy and absurdity of the quotidian. Delightful animals appear in this show, as in Tom Howse’s parading and perched pigeons, Susumu Kamijo’s bear peeking over a poodle, and Caleb Hahne Quintana’s gaze-piercing cat. Similarly painting for the sheer pleasure of color, form, and lighthearted content, Eddie Martinez has claimed that his flower series can be humorous in their occasional resemblances of genitalia. (1) Mark Yang also finds the arrangement of a still life ripe with the possibility of comedy as he shuffles body parts into a nonsensical arrangement in which, in this case, nipples peek out from behind a leg as if they are eyes.
Humor is employed to magnify a feature of the subjects depicted by many artists in this show. Here, R. Crumb’s lustful and satirical cartoons meet George Condo’s intimate and psychological stylizations of figures. Concomitantly, the animated figures in Nicasio Fernandez’s paintings often appear in exaggerated emotional states and escalated situations. In Stewing, Fernandez makes a visual pun between the feeling of dwelling in one’s anxieties, being cooked, and soaking in a jacuzzi. Hulda Guzmán’s painting Kali, you’re so funny portrays another pictorial quip in this show in which a cartoon-like rendering of the Hindu goddess of destruction Kali is reveling with the artist’s father, the architect, as they construct their family’s home in the North of the Dominican Republic following a hurricane’s destruction of its roof.
Other artists in this show play with words in their titles and in their idiosyncratic drawings of text. Several works consider visualizations of phrases such as Greg Ito’s painting Short on Time. Speaking about his own depictions of words, Ed Ruscha stated: “Well, isn’t it curious that those little squiggles, the way they come about, and the way they form and follow one another and precede one another, go to make up that funny word?” (2) Rusha’s 1973 gunpowder drawing Walks Talks Flies Swims Crawls nonsensically calls upon the movements and actions of an active but unknowable creature. As humor is often used in conceptual art as a tool to critique, this work is shown alongside a drawing from Tony Lewis’s series in which he writes a word in Gregg shorthand to subversively challenge the underlying power dynamics associated with certain modes of communication and to make his Conscious mark on art history.
Many artists in this show take a blithe approach as an entryway into serious matters–some use humor to gently bring attention to difficult topics, and others entertain comedy as a coping mechanism to gloss over or to take control of less easily-digestible emotions. Speaking about her work in this exhibition, Kate Klingbeil stated: “jokes often contain emotional truths.” In her work Stone’s Throw, a spare tire is repurposed as a hot tub–the incongruence of the intended use of the tire compared to its repurposing may seem silly, but it also draws attention to the underlying fact that scarcity of resources is what has deemed reuse necessary. Similarly, Anne Buckwalter manipulates levity and disarming familiarity to address topics that are often considered, in her words, “taboo, stigmatized, or shameful,” such as “sexuality, desire, gender expression, and the body.” Through a once-mundane collection of a simple coffee cup, newspaper, and cigarette carton, Stephanie H. Shih offers a witty historical artifact of New York City in the 1980’s punctuated by the dark humor of the infamous 1983 New York Post headline: “Headless Body in Topless Bar”. Levity is likewise frequently used as a device for psychological exploration and comfort. Yuri Yuan processed her fears by painting an artist’s worst nightmare: the studio and all of the paintings in it burning down in flames. Speaking about this work, Yuan stated: “By painting this scene, I deliver the punchline. It’s no longer the worst fear when it’s known, it’s no longer funny when I get the joke.”
To be playfully curious is to seek new ways of understanding that open doors—to interacting with oneself and one another with ease, to acting creatively, to making the most of the hand one’s dealt, and to charmingly guiding one another along to engage with heavy topics with levity.
(1) Eddie Martinez with Alison M. Gingeras, Eddie Martinez: Green Thumb, Blum & Poe, 2021.
(2) Ed Ruscha with Paul Karlstrom, “Oral history interview with Edward Ruscha”, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, October 29, 1980-October 2, 1981.
Press Release by Kirsten Cave
Levity will run at Alexander Berggruen (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3) from July 13-August 29, 2023. The exhibition’s preview is available upon request. For all inquiries, please contact the gallery at email@example.com.