left: Just a Shot Away, 2015, mixed media, right: Prepare for Saints #2, 2015, mixed media
|Paul Kasmin Gallery presents No Kidding an exhibition of new mixed media paintings by Deborah Kass. It’s the first time that the artist incorporates neon light in her paintings, limiting her signature palette, primarily to black and blue. The aim is to spell out puns and phrases bearing pop cultural references that represent a somber meditation on contemporary issues such as global warming, institutional racism, police brutality, gun violence, and attacks on women’s health, through the lens of minimalism and grief.
Something typical from Kass’ paintings, is that she often borrows their titles and puns from songs, such as, Just A Shot Away, 2014, which comes from the Rolling Stones’ 1969 song – “Gimme Shelter,” that was written in response to the violence of that period. Consistently laden with ambiguity, this work, along with others in the exhibition, references a series of current social, political, and environmental tipping points.
We can observe a similar process in Happy Days, 2014, a multi panel, black-colored painting, that references the campaign song for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful 1932 Presidential campaign. The song was re-recorded thirty years later by the singer Barbra Streisand – one of Kass’ muses – giving it a new vibe for a different generation. Kass provides yet another way of reading, commenting on the fate of the New Deal and America’s relationship to happiness and hope.
In a separate room, works like The Band Played On and Prepare for Saints provide the coda for the show. In the spirit of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, these paintings are realized with non-traditional materials, and as all the works in the exhibit, look at the troubling present and the uncertain future with striking ambivalence.