Critics’ Picks

John Isaacs, It is for you that I this (hippy scalp), 2009, wax, oil paint, human hair, wood, glass, steel, velvet, 20 x 20 x 71".


John Isaacs

Wendt + Friedmann Galerie
Heidestrasse 54
January 15–March 6

The centerpiece of “Tears Welling Up Inside,” British artist John Isaacs’s darkly witty solo exhibition, is titled It is for you that I this (hippy scalp), 2009. Here, a delicate Victorian-looking wood and glass vitrine at the entrance of this charming town-house gallery holds a grotesque form––a meaty, veiny scalp streaming platinum-blond hair. Despite the title, the scalp looks exactly like the head of one of the blond nihilists in The Big Lebowski (1998), and in that echo, it seems, is embedded the gritty tension of Isaacs’s work.

In an adjacent room there is a massive, meticulously crafted sculpture that depicts a pile of feces overflowing from a box made of bathroom tiles. Another sculpture consists of a weathered wooden armchair with a sallow floral print sitting on top of a complicated contraption with mismatched wheels. The piece recalls a homemade wheelchair or, perhaps, a set piece from Monty Python. On a wall are notebook pages with ink drawings in which a black blob surrounds the word LOVE, a reference to Robert Indiana’s iconic 1964 work, except that Isaac’s version is made up of clippings from a hard-core porn magazine. In a similarly punky gesture, a careful doodle of a disembodied eyeball and lettering re-create the style of 1960s psychedelic posters but convey a profane message closer to a saying from a crotchety Bukowski. But within all the subversion of iconography there is an endearing, cheeky joy that evokes the flaws and virtues of an idealistic era. Fundamentally, Isaacs, like the Coen brothers’ nihilists, seems to happily believe in nothing––least of all his own cynicism.