It was the first Thursday after Labor Day, and the side streets coming off the West Side Highway were packed with those wearing a plethora of combinations of black. The fashion week excitement trickled into the more-than-usual Thursday night bustle in Chelsea. The humidity hung like a wet towel, but that didn’t stop the frenzy as beer and wine were hurriedly consumed, lines that formed outside certain gallery doors, and people whom were generally flitting back and forth across the street. Walking quickly, midst brief “hellos” to friends and colleagues- gallery goers sought to see all the exhibits they could before the night came to an early end.
There were many highlights, but in the Anton Kern Gallery lay perhaps the greatest of them all, a $350,000 Grecian urn. Tucked away in the back behind a corner, a viewer came upon Diet 7Up Frimkess Pot by Jonas Wood, a 114 x 76 inch painting on an urn that held the viewer’s eye- dancing between surprise, curiosity and delight.
Diet 7Up Frimkess Pot is a Grecian urn of today with clear references to consumer culture (as the name gives away). The name also is a nod to Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess. Michael throws clay pots, and Magdalena paints them: their work is currently on display at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Magdalena, who includes Latin American and Native American motifs in her pot paintings, is also known for including whatever else inspires her or captures her eye, including images from popular culture.
Wood’s urn features not regular, but Diet 7Up, raising a mirror to a culture that wants it all—the taste of sugar without the calories. Around the large Diet 7Up logo lies a more complex and human picture. There is a quarrelling couple with a perplexed dog-as-child. There is the kind of generically “exotic” turtles on the bottom—something you might find on a souvenir on Cancun. Spanglish and mock Hawaiian flowers touch the sides, written in mock-Greek print. Is this meant to be ironic? The answer is certainly “yes.”
Wood is known for effortlessly bridging the divide between pop culture and modern art, invoking Matisse and Picasso with his colors and brush strokes. His undergraduate study in psychology comes through in the nuanced and complex moments suggested by the characters in his paintings. In an Architectural Digest piece by Rebecca Bates Wood shares: “I’m interested in exploring the spaces that I’ve inhabited and the psychological impact they’ve had on me and my memories of them…and then I can create a new memory of that space.” Roberta Smith, of the New York Times, writes of Jonas paintings that they “negotiate an uneasy truce among the abstract, the representational, the photographic and the just plain weird.” She also notes the way that he plays with space, planes, angles and tone to “continually declare their constructed, considered, carefully wrought artifice.”
Wood’s explorations of space, both physical and psychological, comes through in this massive work of art. In Diet 7Up Frimkess Pot, the quarrelling couple and the looming elongated elderly woman who looks down in shock, passing judgment, are the two features that remind us of an undercurrent of distress before the constant cheerfulness of consumer culture.
Anton Kern Gallery exhibitions can be viewed at 532 W 20th Street, NY, NY 10011