Yinka Shonibare, Rage of the Gods, 2015
James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th Street, NYC
Yinka Shonibare has decided that the gods are not crazy, but mad! They rage at our abuse of the planet's bounty. Mortalized into female form, the artist drives his point home through the glamour and grace of ballerinas accompanied by lethal weapons: a gun, a knife and a sword. The effect is classic Shonibare, a theatrical seduction delivering a serious exhortation: "People get real, stop ruining the earth."
Yinka Shonibare, Poseidon, 2015
In previous exhibitions, Shonibare addressed the geo-political issues of our time. This exhibition targets another universal, the degradation of the environment due to our profligate human habits. We are the cause of our own demise. And, as classical mythology has taught us, we will be punished by the gods for our hubris. In this particular show, Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo have descended from Mount Olympus, in fetching tutus - truly eye candy for the fashion junky - to convey Shonibare's concerns.
Yinka Shonibare, Apollo, 2015
These lithe deities, accompanied by little Butterfly Childr[en] (a boy and girl) in Victorian dress, seem to dance around in youthful merriment, spreading the news of glitter and doom. Photographs of a woman crowned with Medusa snakes seem to provide a silent keening for salvation. Dance, song and visual spectacle animate this potent ensemble throughout the galleries. We are entertained by their beauty; we are intoxicated once again by Shonibare's incomparable creativity and meticulous execution. The artist and his crew have done good - visually and morally. The mixture of western tropes and Dutch/African fabrics continues to speak of Shonibare's signature hybridity. Luscious - always luscious - to behold.
Zeus and Poseidon in Rage of the Gods, 2015
But the introduction to the exhibition is not so pretty: an ungainly Refugee Astronaut trudges through an imagined future of the earth's environmental devastation. He or she carries the bare necessities of our bygone existence - including a pot for tea, reflecting the English side of Shonibare's bicultural background (born in London, he moved to Lagos, Nigeria when he was three, and then returned to London to study art).
Yinka Shonibare, Refugee Astronaut, 2015
The themes for the exhibition are "rage" and "escape" - the gods rage and the children/astronaut escape. We are nudged into reflection, accountability. Only the Caravaggesque Medusas - North, South, East and West - register the urgency this artist hopes to bring to our attention.
detail of Refugee Astronaut
Can art save the world? Well, Shonibare tries his best to make it so. I appreciate the effort and applaud the diligence and care that he brings to his sincere objectives.
Yinka Shonibare, The Rage of the Gods, closes at James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th Street, on Saturday, June 20th.
(His exhibition at Morris-Jumel Mansion, West 160th Street and Jumel Terrace, continues through August 31st. A review of the Morris-Jumel installations is forthcoming.)
Best wishes to the fathers of art as we celebrate Father's Day 2015,
Beth New York
aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic
Director, New York Arts Exchange
My Purchase College class will meet at James Cohan at 1 pm on June 20th. Please let me know if you would like to join us for a discussion and tour of other Chelsea galleries. firstname.lastname@example.org