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Gagosian opens an exhibition of new works by Robert Therrien
Robert Therrien, No title (witch hat), 2018. Plastic, 16 5/8 x 9 1/4 x 9 1/4 inches, 42.2 x 23.5 x 23.5 cm © 2019 Robert Therrien / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Josh White/ Courtesy Gagosian.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Gagosian presents new works by Robert Therrien. This is his first solo exhibition in San Francisco in more than twenty years.

Central to Therrien’s process is the repetition and refinement of found and invented forms. As he translates seemingly simple subjects from two to three dimensions or from small to large and back again, familiar images become oddly cryptic—like ambiguous linguistic units whose meanings shift depending on their placement and orientation. Entirely new motifs emerge from this process: renderings of a chapel evolve into an oilcan; snowmen become clouds; and a stork beak is echoed in the bent tip of a witch hat.

Attesting to Therrien’s interest in cartoons and animation (especially that of Max Fleischer), new works depict puffy cloud-like forms resembling smoke signals or thought bubbles. Therrien leaves the symbols’ meaning unclear, subtly exploring their formal qualities instead, so that some clouds appear completely flat, like decals, and others more voluminous. Another painting features a pictogram from the unique code invented by migratory workers in the United States in the nineteenth century, who would draw symbols at certain locations to assist fellow drifters. Therrien shows two connected circles and three triangles, ostensibly meaning “a kind woman lives here, and she will help you if you tell a story of your hardships.” This simple yet effective cipher forms a historical precedent to his own symbolic vocabulary, epitomized by a series of four wall reliefs—cutouts of a ranch house, a chapel, a pitcher, and a barn—hanging in silhouette.

Many of Therrien’s works are manifestations of his continued and in-depth explorations of everyday objects or images. His towers of kitchenware are modeled after the pots, pans, and dishes in his studio kitchen, and his beard sculptures began with his interest in representing Constantin Brancusi’s facial hair. Hanging from a cruciform armature, No title (plaster beard) (1999) simultaneously recalls classical sculpture, religious iconography, and Surrealist techniques of fragmentation and scale distortion. Adding to this sense of fantasy, No title (stork beak) (1999) is a softly lit photographic print that shows a long beak grabbing a white bundle, signaling the Greek myth of the queen Gerana, trying to steal her baby back from the goddess Hera, who had turned her into a stork.

Therrien’s engagement with folklore continues in No title (hands and tambourines) (2018), wherein three tambourines are activated by the inclusion of simply drawn hands on a bright blue ground, and No title (witch hat) (2018), a mysterious black sculpture that echoes the artist’s “bent cone” form from the 1980s. These works capture Therrien’s unique ability to unite geometric abstraction, perspectival illusion, and realism—oscillating freely between genres and cleverly erasing the lines between them.

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