The Kohn Gallery is very pleased to open its grand, 10,000-square foot space with an inaugural exhibition of new paintings, works on paper, installation and sculpture by Los Angeles-based artist, Mark Ryden. The new building will boast immense exhibition space with 22-foot ceilings, allowing for stunning shows on a monumental scale. This design will also incorporate a massive glass window along Highland Avenue and extensive skylights to awash the gallery with natural light.
The inaugural exhibition by famous Pop-Surrealist, Mark Ryden, underscores his aesthetic forays into cultural kitsch through his exploration of the lost but not forgotten "Gay 90s". Employing the visual trappings of the formally idealized 1890s in America—women dressed in satin skirts with large bows, large wheeled bicycles, Main St. USA, vaudevillian stages—Ryden recreates scenes from this marginalized slice of pop culture. This important new body of work negotiates the aesthetic value of clichéd nostalgia through the lens of polished neoclassic painting.
Mark Ryden is well-known for both his imaginative subject matter and consummate skill as a painter. His work resembles a meeting of the French 19th century painter of pristine portraits, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, and the underground cartoonist Robert Crumb where offbeat subject matter is rendered in traditionally beautiful painting technique. These simultaneously nostalgic and dystopian narratives underscore our culture's attraction and repulsion to kitsch, while linking its ebb and flow as an accepted notion of taste to larger periods of art history.
This means that Ryden has a keen interest in what becomes kitsch in our cultural landscape. The "Gay 90s" is a term that was invented in the 1920s and refers to the utopian image of American life in the simpler times at the end of the 19th century. For the burgeoning population of the big cities in the United States during the Roaring Twenties the "Gay 90s" was a symbol of a less chaotic life, of an insulated and prosperous country untouched by world wars, when the population of rural America was still greater than the urban one. But 100 years later, by around 1990, not only did the term "Gay 90s" no longer conjure an escape to the 19th century, but its image as an idyllic respite was no longer the paradigm of the Golden Life. Moreover, the notion of large wheeled bicycles and women's dress bustles had become forgotten if not repugnant to nostalgia seekers and cultural historians more interested in Mid-century Modern.
Enter Mark Ryden. The artist explores Victorian decorative design, clichéd notions of "Main Street USA", small business and immigration ("The Meat Shop"), and vaudeville shows with a dark and complex sentimentality. Integrating the Christ figure and Abraham Lincoln with his wife-eyed, petticoat clad ingénues presents the viewer with an unreal and very oddly camp version of American history. His is an exploration of what becomes cliché, what becomes kitsch and what becomes forgotten. Yet through it all Ryden makes some of the most richly rendered, beautifully glazed, idealized yet disturbing works of contemporary art. Like his contemporaries John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage and Neo Rauch, Mark Ryden uses a skillfully honed technique to render his polished and emotionally charged works.
This exhibition that opens on November 9, 2013, is a continuation of his show "The Gay 90s: Olde Tyme Art Show" that took place in 2010 at the Kasmin Gallery, New York. The Los Angeles exhibition at the Kohn Gallery will include his largest and most ambitious work to date: a 96 x 120 inch painting with a wooden frame hand-carved in bas-relief. In addition it will include his now famous painting of a meat dress (made popular by Lady Gaga), Incarnation, 2009, along with numerous other smaller paintings and works on paper. Finally, the artist will make a site-specific installation that consists of found and crafted objects that relate to this specific body of work.
Mark Ryden is the subject of a large-scale, limited edition deluxe book recently published by Taschen that reproduces works from over a 20-year period. In addition, Rizzoli has published a book titled "The Gay 90s", which focuses on the subject matter of the show. Ryden was included in "The Artists' Museum", Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2010, and was the subject of a one-person exhibition, "Wondertoonel," that traveled from the Frye Art Museum, Seattle 2004 to the Pasadena Museum of California Art, 2005.