Review by Robert C. Morgan
Pop Art is a category of art-making that is relatively well known to most people acquainted with art on some direct or indirect level. By this I mean it is a category that has a familiar resonance, largely due to its lack of resonance. Pop Art is less about how you feel in relation to the formal quality of a painted surface, for example, and more about how you get it, that is, how the image hits you in a particular way. It often refers to familiar aspects of popular culture that viewers sense, perhaps more than understand. Some are capable of integrating their sensory cognitions into ways of seeing that sublimate meaning in relation to a particular style of living, often a quasi-conformist addiction to meaning that floats without stabile grounding.
Generally, people who enjoy Pop Art spend a considerable amount of time engaged in watching and analyzing entertainment as deployed through everyday media, actions films, and commercial advertisements on line or in print. Much of the Pop Art that qualifies as art is based largely on allure and titillation as opposed to spiritual ideas or a renaissance awakening. However, there are works that do qualify as Pop Art that occasionally prove more open-ended by allowing viewers to reflect more closely on the details of what they are actually seeing. I would put this approach to Pop Art within the purview of Noah Becker, specifically in relation to the work currently on display at a modest but seemingly serious gallery hidden between Chinatown and Little Italy known as Amy Li Projects.
The show is discreetly hung with only five medium-sized paintings. Titled Fun Drugs, which is taken from words painted a work in the exhibition featuring the character Big Bird from a long-standing children’s television program, Becker highly imaginative, yet strangely cool ensemble of work begins to evoke issues not only about Pop Art but about painting in general. While this may sound like a contradiction, it is. What do these words have to do with the image of Big Bird who is replicated four times on canvas? In fact, there is no single answer other than to put the painting in relation to the other four paintings, which thematically hold a structural relationship to one another.
Each of Becker’s paintings has a format in which the same fictional character or cartoon is visually portrayed. Each portrait is meant to address the fantasies of pre-pubescent youths. For example, the bright-eyed boy and girl appropriated from the harrowing 1960s film, Village of the Damned, can be found in Becker’s painting, titled Great Again. In contrast to the other four paintings, the two leading characters are painted twice, which together, make a quadrant. In the other paintings, we are given varied images of Batman, E.T., Big Bird, and the highly ambiguous Pink Panther (accompanied by the elusive words: “Smoke, Drunk, and Fuck.”) All the paintings were done this year with each containing a similar terse, haphazard phrase painted in bubble script. The selected monochrome background in each painting – pink, hot pink, umber, yellow, and a drippy greenish blue – is used to unify the four (repeated) portraits into a single portrait. In effect, each character is being deconstructed before the viewer’s eye.
While Pop Art is something I feign and only occasionally write about, I became interested in how Becker has managed to suggest an extension of the possibilities of this genre into a more conceptual form. Something like this was done earlier in the late 1980s and 90s, but the game is different today. The game is always different as art perpetually aspires to be and occasionally to become different. As the semiologists that accompanied that earlier period made clear, there are moments in the history of language (and possibly of art) when form must reach down to “degree zero” in order to find itself and reinvent itself. I cannot say whether or not this formal aspiration is what Noah Becker is striving to achieve, because I have not seen enough work to know. But I do think there is a hint of potential to move the structure of the game further ahead.
Noah Becker: Fun Drugs
Amy Li Projects
Wed – Sun 12 – 6 pm
166 Mott Street
(May 12 – June 1, 2016)