The inaugural exhibition at the new 12,000 sq ft Kohn Gallery, showcases the artistry of Mark Ryden and his new body of work “The Gay 90’s: West”. Upon entering the main gallery you are welcomed by a lush coral pink that performs as the backdrop to masterfully rendered paintings portraying reoccurring character - porcelain-doll faced girls, Lincoln, Jesus, and fleshy slabs of meat. Ryden continues to capture our imagination and entice us with his genuine ratification of fantasy and the kitsch. Journalist and gallerists have called Mark Ryden a “crossover artist”, stating that “he's stretched across two different kinds of art worlds”. In his early career he was a commercial artist, making album cover for the likes of Michael Jackson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His early placement in the “lowbrow”, pop surrealist movements, of the early 2000’s seems like a distant dream when galleries like this one and Paul Kasmin of New York, are representing him to the high art world.
Ryden’s work teleports us through the macabre that lives in the heart of the falsified 1890’s. His use of bizarre subject matter mixed with traditional alluring painting techniques allows access to his “dystopian narratives of nostalgia”, as he reflects on societies acceptance of the grotesque. With each painting framed in ornate woodcarvings, that echo the symbolism of alchemy and the occult. The Parlor (Allegory of Magic, Quintessence and Divine Mystery), featuring silk dressed women in Victorian style hats holding the five senses, and children playing on the floor next to a fabernatchi clock, are just a few of the carefully detailed symbols depicted in the vaudevillian room. When asked about why he chose to flaunt the symbols of the occult he stated “It’s something I’ve always been curious about and read about, and it just leaks into my work… the function of it is more for people to look at and wonder what all the symbols mean”.
The exhibition includes Ryden’s most famous work from the past few years, Incarnation, which inspired Lady Gaga’s infamous dress. Main Street U.S.A., which depicts a flesh torn Christ riding a bicycle down main street, while spectators gaze with disinterest. Along side new works Katy Aphrodite and Queen Bee, that depicts a nymph girl with her golden hair fashioned into a bird’s nest.
Lastly, as you pass through the main gallery to the smaller rooms in the back, Ryden gives a sneak peak into his thoughts and practices, with framed sketches, drawings, and porcelain sculptures. Some of these renderings are as carefully illustrated as his finished works. Installed in the back gallery are source material of collected posters and records that are across the way from a site-specific installation, Memory Lane. This automaton diorama, comes to life with moving parts and Daisy Bell playing along. The main attraction moves along the front of main-street on a track that moves a wagon full of skeletons and flowers, a pink horse that has a banner that says “fresh meat”, with a backdrop filled many other alcoves of mystery.
The show is on view at the Kohn Gallery until June 28th.