Jim Shaw

Marciano Foundation, Los Angeles, USA

At the dark heart of Jim Shaw’s ‘The Wig Museum’ – an exhibition presented in a former Masonic Temple repurposed by brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano for their private art foundation, and incorporating myriad improbable Masonic artefacts salvaged directly from the bowels of the building – is a story about male ambition, authority, secrecy and repression. The narrative unfurls across a series of found drawings: coursework from ‘The Famous Artist’s Correspondence Course’, which Shaw discovered among his father’s belongings after he died. In red crayon on tracing paper overlays, instructors opine on Shaw Sr.’s drawings of animals, faces and women (lots of women). ‘Heads need to be longer, prettier,’ says one. Typewritten letters, dated 1955 to 1957, critique – in detail – the artist’s technical weaknesses. Apparently, Mark Shaw never gave up his day job doing package design for Dow Chemical.

jim_shaw_wig_museum_14.jpg

Jim Shaw, The Wig Museum, 2017, installation view, Marciano Art  Foundation 2017. Courtesy: The artist and Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles; photograph: Roberts Wedemeyer

In Shaw Jr.’s exhibition, however, this story is really about the son, not the father. By most metrics, Shaw has succeeded in becoming the ‘famous artist’ that his father never did, as attested by the scale of this impressive survey as well as recent surveys at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in 2015, and the New Museum, New York, in 2016. The titles of those exhibitions were ‘Entertaining Doubts’ and ‘The End is Here’, respectively; it seems Shaw’s measure of success has not exempted him from anxiety, neurosis, regret and self-doubt, which riddle the 64-year-old artist’s work now more than ever. A painting on a found theatre backdrop depicting a pretty clapboard house is titled Seven Deadly Sins (2013). Over the faded background Shaw has painted adaptations of seven iconic history paintings, including Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat (1793); in Marat’s hand is a self-excoriating to-do list: ‘Find more iconic history paintings to use… Xerox more stuff. Get assistants to trace found images… Have more dreams.’

jim_shaw_wig_museum_7.jpg

Jim Shaw, The Wig Museum, 2017, installation view, Marciano Art  Foundation. Courtesy: The artist and Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles; photograph: Roberts Wedemeyer

Assignments my father did for Famous Artist School mail-in-correspondence course with teacher corrections (c.1950) – as the found drawing installation appears in the checklist – has been arranged around a mural-scale picture of Superman’s groin. Shaw has written about Superman’s thick waist, a design feature that renders him (in Shaw’s reading) a middle-aged dad figure fretting about Kryptonite-induced impotence. As viewers approach Superman’s giant black underpants, they discover that the seemingly solid shape is in fact a cutaway, behind which coloured plastic Kryptonite glows ominously.

While some of ‘The Wig Museum’ is familiar fare for Shaw-watchers, what grants it fresh pertinence is its situation inside the magnificent former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple. In the Scottish Rite tradition, teachings and rituals take the form of plays, so at the centre of the temple was a 2000-seat theatre. After the building was purchased by the Marciano brothers, much of the scenery, costumes and other ephemera was abandoned by the Masons, and Shaw, who has appropriated theatrical backdrops since around 2004, put some of it to use.

jim_shaw_wig_museum_5.18.17_3_small.jpg

Jim Shaw, The Wig Museum, 2017, installation view, Marciano Art  Foundation. Courtesy: The artist and Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles; photograph: Roberts Wedemeyer

Shaw’s centrepiece is an awesome Masonic backdrop depicting hell, replete with dragons, serpents, and naked, flailing bodies tumbling into the fiery depths – which, for added effect, he has lit with coloured lights. Nearby stands a plywood cut-out of a bejewelled shopping trolley, a scrim painted with a row of fancy shops, and The Wig Museum (2017) itself: a display structure convening rescued Masonic wigs alongside outlandish wigs created by Shaw. Despite their absurdity, wigs have historically been symbols of European authority and control. As with so much of Shaw’s work, the found material is so unbelievable that it blends effortlessly with the imagery pulled directly from his subconscious. To try to tease the fictional from the real is to miss the point of Shaw’s work: fiction and fantasy have every bit as much influence on economic and social power structures and sacred belief systems as any so-called reality, as this glimpse behind the curtain shrouding a secret brotherhood reveals.

Main image: Jim Shaw, ‘The Wig Museum’, 2017, installation view, Marciano Art  Foundation. Courtesy: the artist and Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles; photograph: Roberts Wedemeyer 

 

Jonathan Griffin is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018