Jake Scharbach, "Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519" (2022) (all images courtesy the artist)

The power of juxtaposition is at the core of Jake Scharbach’s art. He places two often disconnected things in proximity to point out connections that are rarely discussed. In the recent series of work he’s taken what he considers the “God-like heroes and heroines” that line the halls of museums and clusters a pile of contemporary American trash around their heads.

“The items of trash and contemporary life placed over their faces is a rejection and disfigurement of what values that particular portrait symbolizes, while bluntly showing the evidence of where we are, what we have become, the waste, the decadence, the trappings of late stage capitalism,” he explained in an email interview. “All of my work is centered around a critique of Western civilization and the ethics and values that we have inherited from it (accumulation, competition, domination, hoarding, extraction). I try to find ways to make that inheritance visible by prodding it, debunking it, making fun of it.”

Scharbach’s newest works are on display at the 2022 Spring Break Art Show (booth #1018) in Manhattan. Curated by Jillian Mackintosh, the small exhibition in mounted on wine-red brocade-patterned walls and is full of funny, clever, and playful moments.

Jake Scharbach, “Portrait of Francisco Pizarro, Amable-Paul Coutan, 1835″ Regular price” (2022)

His placement of the objects isn’t random and the artist does his utmost to point out the absurdity of contrasts through puns and wordplay. He places a pepperoni pizza slice atop Amable-Paul Coutan’s portrait of conquistador Francisco Pizarro, like a childhood taunt, but in other works the items have more pointed meanings. He explains, “For instance, the Chiquita Banana bag over Columbus, a reference to United Fruit Company ( a US corporation) that for over a century has propped up dictatorships in Latin America and actually massacred its own workers when they went on strike … [while] Mary Tudor was called ‘Bloody Mary’ because she had so many common citizens burned at the stake for being protestant. So she gets a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos bag.”

The portraits, if we can call them that, play with the trompe l’oeil tradition, but in a very contemporary way, turning the materialism of wealth into the garbage of civilization, and irreverence is one of his central artistic tenets.

Jake Scharbach, “Mary Tudor (aka Bloody Mary), Antonis Mor and Workshop, 1554” (2022)

“My first impulse is always to deface. Although it can also be understood as an accumulation, like a magnet. I read somewhere that word, ‘deface,’ came from when the Vandals sacked Rome and broke the noses off the statues. It’s a powerful statement. It’s a rejection, a refusal. And the face is the center of our psychological being,” he said. “After civilization collapsed on Easter Island, and the population crashed from environmental ruin, the remaining inhabitants toppled over the iconic stone heads out of anger and defiance toward their elders for leaving them in such an impoverished state. I feel this same way about our current civilizational collapse. I want to deface our elders. And I want future generations to deface us.” He added, referring to our current abuse of the planet, “They should. We took it all with us.”

Jake Scharbach, “Portrait of Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere, Pedro Berruguete, Early 1500s” (2022)
Jake Scharbach, “Marie Antoinette with a Rose, Vigee Le Brun, 1783” (2022)

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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