New York

Jim Shaw

Metro Pictures

HAPPILY FOR HORROR VACUISTS, Jim Shaw's recycling of cultural detritus continues unabated. For six years his increasingly less nocturnal “Dream Project” has functioned as a reservoir of flotsam and jetsam drawn from surrealist installation, comic books, photorealist painting, commercial illustration, and everything in between, as filtered through his unconscious mind. He's not offering an archaeology of trash culture; viewers are meant not to classify but merely to ponder the existence of these images—the tweaked cliché, the stylized art object, the dispossessed icon, the reconstituted dream, all shuffled as blips on a perpetually changing cultural landscape. With its various styles and subjects, the project has provided Shaw with boundless opportunities to flex his impressive draftsmanship. Yet while there are few signs that this artist is slowing down, such a marathon regurgitation of culture, high and low, seems to have become something of a burden on him.

Substance aside, Shaw's dredging yields its own paradoxes, beyond the obvious irony of taking the time to laboriously execute instantaneous conceptions. His compulsion to unearth inchoate thoughts and conflate them in rudimentary and psychedelic fashion presumes a loss of self in the service of a kind of exhibitionism. An important aspect of such dream-based work is the fragmentation and loss of context that accompanies a virtually random appropriation of images and styles. But Shaw seems to be aware that his commitment to such arbitrary popular visualization is decentering. His many angst-ridden self-portraits—one particularly masklike, depicting the artist with an intensely furrowed brow, eyes and mouth cut out—attest to the Sisyphean and exhaustive nature of his repetitive, mechanical task.

The notion of diversity functions differently in this series than it has elsewhere in the artist's oeuvre. Shaw's installations of his collected “Thrift Store” paintings (some 350 in number) fascinated not only because of their disparate and unspoken subtexts but because of their careful choosing. The operation of selection, dependent on the workings of the artist's particular (rather deranged) taste, is superseded here by arbitrariness and overriding inclusiveness. While a watercolor of Spiro Agnew on a Ziploc bag or an image of a Serbo-Croatian vampire basketball player cannot fad to grab the viewer, in other works—like Dream Object (By the garage was a big ganesha statue made of foam with phallic drips coming from the breasts and for a head. . .), 2001– the effect of cleverness and novelty is all but obscured by the jumble of cultural references. This, perhaps, is the artist's point.

Shaw's dream work succeeds in depersonalizing the unconscious that has historically provided the means for reading the self. His ceaseless mental excavations attest to the universally hybrid and media-saturated world that complicates self-determination. If the unprecedented cultural mix of today's wired universe has rendered history irrelevant to younger generations, Shaw's visual bulimia—more about disgorging than generating—is, ironically, a panegyric to the myriad culture that has already been produced.

Mason Klein