NEW YORK—A+E Studios is pleased to present Chasing Unicorns: Mythologies of Progress in American Landscapes, a group exhibition featuring the work of Annie Shinn, Arden Surdam, Chaney Trotter, Costanza Theodoli-Braschi and Vernon O’Meally.
Contemporary rap, medieval tapestries, New Yorker cartoons, kitschy online videogames, marketing textbooks, and the Bible: all number among the realms of the unicorn. Once associated with virginity and representations of Christ, today’s multicolored cartoon unicorns evoke notions of untamed individuality, campy surrealism, and a sparkling, self- possessed specialness. As thousands of glittering unicorn memes frolic though cyber space, pooping rainbows and sneezing glitter, they’ve taken an allegorical place in millennial culture.
Baby boomers (b. 1946 -1964) raised gen-Y kids, aka millenials, in a time of great prosperity. The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 solidified the political and economic hegemony of capitalist society around the globe, profoundly inflating American cultural confidence. In the US, individuality became prized above all patriotic virtues, creating at atmosphere of ideological self-assuredness and infusing millenials with the idea that, much like unicorns, innate specialness (+ a college degree) guaranteed a magically meaningful life.
In the words of New York Magazine writer Noreen Malone, “It might be hard to create a generation more metaphysically ill equipped to deal with this new tough shit word.” Indeed. That tough shit world, served up by the global financial crisis, greeted millenials like a cold shower as they sprung ambitiously into adult life in the aughts. And yet as a group, gen-Yers maintained, what many considered, mystifyingly optimistic attitudes toward the future.
For the very first Americans reaching the shores of the Atlantic, getting back on the boat simply wasn’t an option. Armed with the hope for a new way of life and the spirit of a nation, which would come to light the world for centuries, generations of pioneers confronted the great, untamed landscape of the future United States. Confidence and resolve became essential in this ideological pursuit, as they marched through the wilderness towards an unknowable, but surely challenging future. Out of this struggle for settlement, Americans became, in the words of Frederick Jackson Turner, “citizens with the power to tame the wild and upon whom the wild conferred strength and individuality.” Consider how much of the American identity is borne out of the relentless beating on of our personal manifest destinies in far out, ever-extending frontiers where dreams belie reality.
Today, more Americans migrate to cities than ever before. According to the US Council of Economic Affairs, over 80% of Americans now live in urban areas comprising just 3% of 2.3 billion acres of the United States. And yet, for all their dynamism and diversity, US cities have become extremely expensive places to call home. Meanwhile, in rural communities, where Meth labs multiply upon our “purple mountains majesty” Americans battle the proliferation of food deserts, rising mortality rates, failing farms, and a crumbling infrastructure.
In a world where prosperity creates disparity, connectivity becomes vital in its absence, and isolation solicits neglect, the romanticized realms depicted in this exhibition bring to light the essential role of American mythmaking at times when our environments challenge us most. Co-curated by Allison Barker and Jessica Speiser, Chasing Unicorns brings together representations of present day landscapes by five young artists whose work expresses nostalgic attitudes toward the past, conflicted relationships with the present, and imaginative optimism for the future. Like the smiling unicorns that gleam through Instagram feeds across the nation, preaching Journey’s time honored lyric, “Don’t Stop Believin’”, this exhibition showcases a dreamy contemporary patriotism embraced among American youth today.
For additional information and images of this exhibition please visit aestudiosny.com
April 8 – 28, 2015
A+E Studios, 160 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013
Press release and photography provided by the Gallery