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The Cinch Review

“Revisionist Art” by Bob Dylan at the Gagosian Gallery in New York

Review of Revisionist Art by Bob Dylan at Gagosian“Revisionist Art: Thirty Works by Bob Dylan” is on show at New York City’s Gagosian Gallery. It was unveiled last Wednesday and runs, God willing, until January 12th, 2013. I was slightly surprised to hear that Dylan was having another show at the Gagosian. It was little more than a year ago that they hosted his “Asia Series,” which visitors were led to believe had sprung from his time spent traveling in Asia, but turned out to be sourced directly from a bunch of old photographs (taken by other people). I thought at the time that this might be a little embarrassing for the gallery. But, I guess it’s true what they say: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. And, indeed, I think that old adage would make a pretty good subtitle for the current exhibition, a display of thirty re-imagined American magazine covers which is part burlesque show and part horror show, with the lines pretty blurry between the two.

In addition, it is quite comic. At least, the missus and I did our fair share of chuckling as we perused the thirty silkscreen-on-canvas creations. The handful of other visitors who were there at the time seemed considerably more somber and I hope we didn’t spoil their visit with our giggles.

BabyTalk by Bob Dylan at the Gagosian GalleryThe two images being used to promote the show—”BabyTalk” and “Playboy”—are quite typical of what you’ll see if you visit. Is it high art, or is it just humor somewhere on the level of “MAD” magazine? (That’s one magazine cover which is not featured, by the way.) I would say more the latter than the former, but I have neither the credentials nor the motivation to make a definite determination. One thing did occur to me: Whatever these things look like now, they will be quite a bit more interesting if they are exhibited one or two hundred years from now, as a visual commentary of sorts on America from about 1960 to 2012 by the late, great figure of that time, Bob Dylan. (Though that still doesn’t mean they are necessarily great art.)

And I’m not an art critic. Different people will take different things from looking at these works. (How often does an art critic say something like that?) But some of the things that struck me are as follows.

The photos of the women on these magazine covers run from lascivious to pornographic. Male faces and figures are usually battered and covered in blood. Sex and violence is the basic consumer product being highlighted. The porn-flick and the Colosseum. (Even the hoity-toity “Philosophy Today” features a nude woman, albeit a little more classical-looking.) The text of the various headlines then reads like a hierarchy of consumer interest: vanity, gossip, conflict, and a little something cultural or intellectual tossed in like salt and pepper. The names of politicians, celebrities and the references to events in the news (notably wars) are interchangeable and bear no relation to the dates on the magazine covers, conveying a sense of there being a continuum of all the same kinds of stuff repackaged and resold over and over again. Continue reading “Revisionist Art” by Bob Dylan at the Gagosian Gallery in New York

The Cinch Review

“The Asia Series” by Bob Dylan at the Gagosian Gallery in New York

Bob Dylan: The Asia Series - Gagosian Gallery

What a difference five or six days make. In a certain sense, at least. I visited the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York City last Saturday afternoon, with two companions, to view the exhibition of Bob Dylan’s “Asia Series,” which was described in a press release as “a visual journal of his travels in Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea.” I’m not an expert on the visual arts, nor someone who invests any significant amount of either passion or money into that area, but as I wrote when the exhibition was announced, I thought (as a long-time dedicated fan of Bob Dylan) that it would be real nice to have this opportunity to see some of his much-talked-about artwork up close and personal, the way it’s meant to be seen. Pictures on the internet or in a book only go so far. A painting is what it is based not only on the pure image but on qualities like texture and size which you can only appreciate when you’re right in front of it (I’m no expert but I’ve been in enough museums to at least know that much).

So we went to see Bob Dylan’s paintings last Saturday afternoon. I’ve been meaning to write a little on it ever since, but I didn’t really have much of significance to say; other than that, yes it really was nice to see some of his artwork up close and personal. So I was putting it off for an idle moment which wasn’t in a hurry to arrive.

In the last couple of days, however, a huge brou-ha-ha has developed over this exhibition, as explained in this Daily Mail story and countless others. The gist of it is that quite a few of these paintings are not of unique scenes that Mr. Dylan encountered during his concert tours in Asia, but are in fact based on old and classic photographs taken by some quite well-known photographers. (And not loosely-based either.) It seems perhaps to have set off the firestorm which previous allegations of plagiarism against Bob were merely kindling. But that remains to be seen. Certainly, it has to be deeply embarrassing for the gallery which characterized the work as something which it simply is not; i.e., a personal travelogue by Bob Dylan. Continue reading “The Asia Series” by Bob Dylan at the Gagosian Gallery in New York

The Cinch Review

Bob Dylan at Gagosian Gallery in New York (2011)

UPDATE: For the post I wrote following my visit to the exhibition (and the eruption of the plagiarism controversy) click here: The Asia Series by Bob Dylan at the Gagosian Gallery.

The following was written soon after the exhibition was first announced:

It’s a little surprising, when you think about it, that this will be Bob Dylan’s first exhibition in New York since he broke out as a mover and shaker in the visual arts with his “Drawn Blank Series” exhibition in Germany’s Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz in 2007. But all things come to those who wait.

Bob Dylan Asia Series Gagosian Gallery New YorkThe Bob Dylan “Asia Series,” consisting of 18 drawings and paintings—apparently with a focus on subjects he found during his Asian tours of 2009 and 2010—will be on show at New York City’s Gagosian Gallery from September 20th through October 22nd, 2011. There will be a catalog including an “interview with John Elderfield and Bob Dylan.” (John Elderfield is a leading art historian and curator who has been associated with at least one previous Bob Dylan exhibition.) Continue reading Bob Dylan at Gagosian Gallery in New York (2011)