American Dreamers at Palazzo Strozzi

American Dreamers in Florence: Part I

Does the American dream still exist? Last year my entire body of work revolved around the question of the American Dream’s existence and futility as it applies to Black Americans. As I continue to research and develop the vocabulary for this concept, Bartholomew F. Bland has curated an exhibition titled, American Dreamers: Reality and Imagination in Contemporary American Art currently showing at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (Firenze), Italy. Damn, he beat me to the punch! Bland opens the exhibition with the following questions: Does the American dream still exist? What future does it have in an age in which the promise of happiness and economic prosperity seems to have fallen foul of an increasingly complex and harsh reality? As the basis for Bland’s exhibition, he has chosen eleven contemporary artists from all walks of life who utilize their imagination and dreams as alternatives to the cookie cutter idea that encompasses the American Dream.

Adam Cvijanovic, Exurbia (section) 2001-2002. Courtesy of Palazzo Stozzina

American Dreamers is a well-organized exhibition with little quirks and questions that only an artist would dare to ask. For instance, Adams Cvijanovic’s installation tilted Exurbia(New City) is a large acrylic panorama painting that portrays the development of a suburban housing community. Exurbia is installed in a somewhat circular gallery that requires the viewer to enter and exit in a specific route. The perspective of Exurbia, as well as the shadows and depth of space, are all aligned with the entrance of the space to enable the viewer to feel that they have suddenly happened upon a developing community. With weeds and high grass in the foreground, residential development in the middle ground as well as hills along the background, Cvijanovic is successful in creating the illusion that the viewer has actually entered Exurbia. Walking in a clockwise fashion, the viewer is walking among the continuing connotations and ideal associated with the American Dream and are literally a part of Exurbia. Now… Cvijanovic’s execution of the painting is somewhat…. Questionable: 1) The surface on which it is painted ( “a synthetic material” )works in favor for the acrylic paint however it does not work in favor of the installation. Air bubbles from attempts to make the painting adhere to the wall, peeling corners and unaligned panels are very evident and just plain ol’ distracting. 2) Furthermore it seems that Cvijanovic was so concerned about the precision of the perspective that he forgot to paint! Now, I say that not in the sense that there are literally untouched surfaces but more so in terms of a painterly feel. Exurbia is tight like an Amber Rose dress. The painting is so accurate that there is no sense of intuition … it’s as if Exurbia is painted by number. Does this align with the idea of perfection and the American Dreams cookie cutter ideals?? Possibly.

will Cotton. Consuming Folly, 2009-2010, oil on linen, 72 x 96 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Mary Boone Galler

Once the viewer exits Cvijanovic’s installation, he or she is beckoned by the unfortunate stupidity and lack of talent that is known as Katy Perry’s 2012 song, California Girls. Damn, was that mean? Directed by artist Will cotton, the overly sexual candy land, board game video, plays on a loop in the next room. Unable to escape, the viewer is drawn into the small gallery that houses 4 paintings of Cotton’s fairy tale land of candy with nude figures (one being Katy Perry) that seem to float along like angels. The rendering of Cotton’s paintings are beautiful. His ability to paint cake icing, cotton candy and candy canes with the likeness and texture of the actual object is superb. In two of the paintings it is obvious where he spent the most time developing the figures skin tones or facial expressions. In rendering photo realistic cinnamon buns, candy canes, and breasts there are underdeveloped areas that are possibly only obvious to an art critic or artist. Lack of shadows to develop volumetric, fleshy qualities, hasty brushtrokes and dirty, dirty edges of the canvas are a tad distracting…but maybe I’m nit-picking…  The only aspect of the show that I question greatly, is the inclusion of the Katy Perry video. Why oh Why was it necessary? “Icing” spurting from phallic attachments to candy covered breasts, awful singing and the Snoop Dogg’s awful rap (oh how he has become a sell out….)was all just so unnecessary!   And only one question comes to mind: Why?!? And I ask that because the video, the song and Cotton’s involvement as artistic director, do not compliment his paintings in this setting!  California Girls is not an extension of his paintings because it is simply what it is: A pop video.

That is all for now. I know that the Writing Art guide dished out at Universities says to focus on one or two aspects of a group exhibition, but that would be no fun. So over the next few days, I plan to upload a few thoughts on a few more artists that I found most interesting in American Dreamers.

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