New York

James Brown

Tony Shafrazi Gallery

These paintings are so deliciously ripe that there’s a danger they’ll turn rotten. A perfect match of European touch and American brut, they reek of high fashion, and indeed, since this successful show, James Brown’s disdainful masks have peered at us from the pages of many a fashion spread. The decadence is palpable as once again the genuine life forces of the Other are tamed within the confined area of fine painting. This time primitive rhythms are spiced with street jive as the white boy steals something from black culture (again), and renders it piss elegant in the “sensitive” manner of the European schools. The work looks good, there is no denying it—but.

I may seem unduly harsh; after all, Brown’s work is undeniably lightweight. But it is precisely its lightness that makes it so dangerous. The paintings have a kind of sexiness, but it is a petrified eroticism, prurient and yet aloof.

to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. Please sign in below.

Not registered for Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW and save up to 65% off the newsstand price for full online access to this issue and our archive.

Order the PRINT EDITION of the May 1984 issue for $17 or the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.