This aesthetic mindfuck requires a backstory: In 1974, struggling Iranian artist Tony Shafrazi spray-bombed Picasso’s Guernica with the doggerel “Kill Lies All.” Variously described by the perp as a Vietnam War protest and/or a way to bring the 1937 mural “absolutely up to date,” this egotistical intervention did nothing for the victims of My Lai or for Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece. However, Shafrazi did manage to parlay his notoriety into lucrative art-mongering for the Shah of Iran; after the ayatollahs made that untenable, he peddled graffiti artists in Soho. Fast-forward to a recent show in Shafrazi’s Chelsea gallery, which reprised such ’80s stablemates as Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, and then add an intervention by gallerist Gavin Brown, artist Urs Fischer, and a high-resolution camera, and you get vandalism updated for our digital age. Brown and Fischer photographed Shafrazi’s exhibition of the graffiti gang in situ, transformed the results into trompe l’oeil wallpaper replete with the shadows of frames and reflections in glass, then pasted the images back up on the walls in the exact same positions as the original show. The topper is works by artists from other generations displayed over the hi-res knockoffs: A Malcolm Morley painting of crashing planes and ships hangs athwart a photo of one of Haring’s radiating cartoon canvases; an exuberant John Chamberlain sculpture fairly leaps from in front of the towering facsimile of a Donald Bachelor collage painting. Particularly striking is a gray, untitled Francis Bacon portrait, half obliterated by vertical brushstrokes, which smolders like cremation ashes atop the digital remains of Scharf’s colorful, gibbering biomorphs. Lily van der Stokker has painted flat acrylic waves and blubbery curves over the photographic wallpaper, her confectionary blues and pinks adding a third layer of imagery; a fourth dimension appears when a guard stands next to his digitized doppelgänger. So, if you relish blithe provocations and peppy cynicism, this fascinating show’s the ticket—too bad you missed the opening, where two hot babes dressed as cops presented Shafrazi with a cake sporting Guernica icing.
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. Starts: June 20. Continues through July 12, 2008