New York

Erró, Good Morning America (detail), 1992, alkyd paint on canvas, 9' 10 1⁄8“ × 14' 9 1⁄8”.

Erró, Good Morning America (detail), 1992, alkyd paint on canvas, 9' 10 1⁄8“ × 14' 9 1⁄8”.


Comprised of thirty-four modestly sized collages and a pair of huge, panoramic paintings, Galerie Perrotin’s exhibition of works by the octogenarian Icelandic artist Erró was like a grand expedition across sixty-one years of his imaginative brilliance. Using his manic enthusiasm and inventive wit, he bombarded us with images from all quarters of high and low culture, often combining them to unusual effect. Léger Scape, 1984, an unexpected amalgamation of Fernand Léger’s Cubistic machine aesthetic with Joan Miró’s Surrealistic naturalism, was a refreshingly new creature, a Frankenstein monster he cobbled together from old avant-garde work that had settled into historical complacency. It was as though Erró took two dead art branches and rubbed them together to generate a fresh spark of aesthetic excitement.

The show’s tours de force were Good Morning America, 1992, and The Last Picassorama, 2015, both flatly painted, mural-size works. The former is a tsunami of comic-book characters (such as aliens, superheroes, and a femme fatale or two); the latter, per its title, scrutinizes the legacy of the titular Spanish modern master, and is filled with figures from virtually all phases of Pablo Picasso’s illustrious career. Both works are towers of visual Babel, cluttered with images and fitted together as though they were crazy quilts or byzantine puzzles. They produce a kind of encyclopedic sound and fury of marvelous, dizzying complexity.

Erró is an insatiable intellectual minus the snobbery—a consumer-scrounger-analyst of culture with a Rabelaisian appetite for its seemingly infinite variety of weird goodies. And yet his work raises a question: Which is more artistically and socially meaningful, or appealing—high art, represented by Léger, Miró, Picasso, et al., or low art, made by the battalions of Walt Disneys, Jack Kirbys, Harvey Kurtzmans, and Stan Lees of the world? Do such distinctions even matter? Picasso, after all, was an illustrator of sorts—an innovative one, no doubt, but one who began and ended his career as a caricaturist, as his parodies of the figures in Diego Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas, 1656, among many other old-master works he enviously destroyed via cruel distortion, strongly suggest. Isn’t his Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, a vicious cartoon of women? And isn’t the print series “Dream and Lie of Franco,” 1937, a vanguard spin on something that could have been pulled from the pages of Mad magazine? I believe Erró would certainly think so.

Much of Erró’s art, like Picasso’s, is filled with sex and violence. The cognoscenti and the common man have an insatiable interest for such things because, as Freud argued, they are essential to the human drive. Erró takes to Pop cultural imagery—and haute culture imagery that has become popular—like a duck to water, often using it to critique society. Among the most apropos examples here was Untitled, 2010, a collage that featured a giant and grotesquely grimacing head wearing a rabid-looking raccoon as a helmet. (The animal, like the artist, is a skilled scavenger.) They loom over a tangle of people fighting around an American flag. Epitomizing Erró’s corrosive wit, the work is an avant-garde comic strip for our times.