New York

Jockum Nordström

David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

According to a recent New York Times article, creative stylists in the lower tiers of the fashion industry are eschewing designer labels and putting together idiosyncratic looks using finds from obscure sources—big news, apparently, in New York, where slaves to fashion far outnumber the truly fashionable. Jockum Nordström performs a similar feat in the city’s art world: His enigmatic, oddly “old-fashioned” drawings and muted mixed-media pieces in watercolor, gouache, and collage stand apart from the visual styles currently in vogue—high-production, knowing, bigger-is-better. And they are likewise beginning to garner attention: This was the Stockholm-based artist’s second solo exhibition in New York, and he will be included in a drawing show at MoMA this fall.

In the 2001 collage The Architects a violinist facing away from the viewer perches on a table alongside a large model of a stand of Corbusier-like buildings. At the lower right a man in sandals determinedly pleasures a voluptuous woman, whose raised legs echo the defoliated tree stumps in the model. Is this some kind of statement ranking music and architecture over carnal indulgence? All three are prominent themes for Nordström (who is, in fact, a guitarist), though the sex is often more goofy or saucy than erotic—as in Every Cabin Needs a Fireplace, 2001, in which a half-naked woman ruffles the hair of a middle-aged gent comically portrayed with a double tongue panting in lust.

In The Drummer, 2001, a childishly drawn guy, cig hanging from plump lips, gleefully bangs on an over-large kit. As if from a magic wand, a snowflake-like paper cutout appears at the tip of one of his drumsticks—a folksy touch that contrasts with the scene outside the window, where Color Field–ish blobs of purple and green run behind tree branches. Nordström also seems obsessed with sailing, which in this show is expressed in one large pencil drawing-an epic doodle. In The Story of Seaside Glory, 2001, he lovingly renders more than a dozen galleons the way a teenage boy might draw muscle cars, accenting the scene with rocky cliffs, numerous sea creatures, and wind represented by swirls of parallel lines.

Aside from the sailing ships, many of Nordström’s works have an archaic bent, such as The Coachman, 2002, which is laid out in a quiltlike grid of nine squares featuring folk-art abstractions, tree forms, and, incongruously, tables piled with more of those modernist-building models. Hundreds of overlapping rectangles in varying beige and white tones form the background here, as in several other pieces, which turn out to be edges of pages from old books. And there is a literary quality to the work: A Necessary Rest in the Auditorium, There Is Mischief Brewing, and Party at the Consultation Room are populated not so much with figures as characters, making it seem as if the viewer has stumbled into an unfolding short story. In The Janitor, 2001, for instance, one of Nordström’s sparest compositions, a woman sits on an office desk, raising a sleek haunch to expose a shadow of genitalia. She must be waiting for the titular character.

While one detects the influence of Dubuffet and Hockney as well as outsider and folk art in Nordström’s work, these drawings get their power from the artist’s own restless imagination—which effectively jump-starts that of the viewer. They’re a welcome alternative to slick, pushy art. Perhaps the freedom to be unfashionable is coming back into fashion.

Julie Caniglia