Scott Kiernan’s canvases want to be underestimated. Their initial impression is frankly anodyne and bland. But the longer one gazes at these pictures, the weirder and more fascinating they become. Some art might blow you away from the moment you see it. But at his NURTUREart exhibition Once around the block (twice), Kiernan’s art reveals itself more slowly, doesn’t care if you overlook it, and eventually impresses you by contradicting its first impression.
A 1991 book of royalty-free stock images is the source for the artist’s appropriations, though the images’ original function was as homemade signs and advertising for mom and pop shops with shoestring production budgets. Kiernan enlarged the images with minimal tweaking into the large canvases on view at NURTUREart. The thin flash vinyl paint lays flat and doesn’t reflect any light. There is no evidence of Kiernan’s brushstroke, which emphasizes a mechanistic style more akin to clip art.
If the style’s first impression is crude, it’s because 1990s stock imagery was severely limited by technical challenges. It was an era when color printers were rare and color copies cost $1 each. The market understandably favored black and white. Far more primitive photocopiers would discombobulate any photo, so it was important to keep graphics simple. The effect of a botched Xeroxed photo is actually memorialized in one of Kiernan’s works in the gallery.
A simple black and white image with basic shapes was just about all that old copiers could handle. The resulting style of simplistic black lines, dots, and cross-bars caught the artist’s eye as he flipped through a dusty book in a junk shop. Today’s diet of web images is a lot flashier and more colorful than it was previously — this visual vibrancy also reconfigures how we see the past. Suddenly this forgotten crudeness now looks exotic and exceptional.
Vacancy is a major aspect of each of the source clip art and Kiernan’s artworks, both stylistically and symbolically. Each image leaves a wide amount of open space for the user’s customized message, the area that clip art users would fill in with their own information.
Meanwhile, the page-border area is left for formal play. And the cross hatching in the bricks of 2010’s “One More Time Around the Block”, the dots on the phone of 2010’s “Give us a Call,” or the speckles of trees on a hill in a distance in 2010’s “How About a Breath of Fresh Air” all at first flew under my radar. But after some careful observation, these clever formal strategies for cobbling together images with such a limited formal arsenal become more and more fascinating. The pictures do more with less.
Pop art usually appropriates advertising imagery that uses a tight, packaged message to persuade the viewer to buy. The strategic vacancy of clip art, awaiting the customizer’s adaptations for its meaning, is unusual. These images are intentionally versatile and can be taken in multiple directions. Such blank, malleable and open-ended signs are semiotic curiosities. Unlike most images, clip art embraces its destiny to be altered, twisted and mediated.
Once around the block (twice) runs at NURTUREart (910 Grand Street, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through April 2.
Coasting the Topography of South Asian Futurisms
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Sadaf Padder presents an exhibition to offer insight into her curatorial process.
I’m a Florida Drag Queen and I’m Scared
I’m truly at a loss for what to do for work and what kind of life I can expect to live.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
An Artist’s Hopeful Vision of the Ocean
Indonesian artist Mulyana crafts a tactile, mystical world in which fish, whales, and coral reefs coexist with sea monsters.
An Introduction to “Afrogallonism”
Serge Attukwei Clottey explores Ghanaian culture and identity through discarded jerrycans and other found materials.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
A Ride With Liz Cohen
Nothing in the artist’s personal biography could predict that she’d one day become a car builder and bikini model.
LA’s Hammer Museum Wants to Be Seen
After two decades of renovations, the museum that calls itself a “well-kept secret” reopens with a mission to be more visible.
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
AI-Generated “Dope Francis” Fools the Internet
Many thought the picture of Pope Francis in a puffer jacket, created using Midjourney, was the real deal.
1,400-Year-Old Mural of Two-Faced Man Found in Peru
Historians hypothesize that the Moche paintings could represent artists’ attempts to experiment with portraying movement or narrative.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Louvre Shutters as Pension Plan Protests Intensify
President Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 has sparked widespread demonstrations across the country.
They Managed to Mess Up an Art Heist Movie
There must be a lesson in Vasilis Katsoupis’s film Inside about the vacuousness of the art market or the claustrophobia of exhibition spaces — I just don’t care.