Works on paper by Jordan Wolfson of JFK Jr. now on view at Gagosian, Basel

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Works on paper by Jordan Wolfson of JFK Jr. now on view at Gagosian, Basel
Installation View. JORDAN WOLFSON: Drawings. June 12–July 22, 2023, Basel.

BASEL.- Gagosian is conducting an exhibition of recent works on paper by Jordan Wolfson at the gallery in Basel. Drawings, the gallery’s first exhibition of Wolfson’s work since announcing its representation of the artist in 2022, features thirty-five framed works from the series JFK Jr. (2020–).

Pairing painted-over photographs of the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. with decals bearing the graphic image of a red rose and the forbidding slogan “Describing how a dog was slaughtered,” Wolfson juxtaposes and mischievously negates potent signifiers of optimism, infallibility, and love. Characterizing the late presidential scion as a celebrated but problematic harbinger of American neoliberalism, the artist transforms him, through brutally simple acts of defacement, from a member of the moneyed elite into an outsider figure, scrawling on his face in an echo of Groucho Marx’s notorious greasepaint mustache. The works are in this sense also self-portraits of their maker as Little J., a college nickname that stood for “Little Jordan,” “Little Jerk,” or “Little Jew.”

Drawings is a relatively unassuming first project at Gagosian for Wolfson, who is known for using a range of mediums—including sculpture, installation, video, photography, digital animation, and performance—in a confrontational style and at spectacular scale. Employing a collage-like methodology, he filters the evolving languages of online and broadcast media through digital and mechanical technologies to explore unsettling social and psychological themes. Wolfson’s oeuvre is marked by the fusion of physical, virtual, and imaginary realms, and revolves around the projection of internal impulses onto constructed selves and scenarios. Focused on the disorienting power of the uncanny, his images and objects have a real and lasting emotional force.

The disturbing text of the stickers in the works on view in Basel represents the horror of destroying a consciousness and the heartbreak of denying love. Yet Wolfson insists that it is meant to elicit complex feelings, not merely to provoke, describing it as aiming for the devastating lyricism of Richard Brautigan’s “Love Poem” (1967) (“it’s so nice / to wake up in the morning / all alone / and not have to tell somebody / you love them / when you don't love them / any more”). Having begun the JFK Jr. series as one way to address the Trump phenomenon without picturing the progressive bête noire directly—positioning instead the altered JFK Jr. as his ideological opposite—Wolfson hopes that the drawings’ relatively intimate scale when compared with many of his other works makes them accessible and, perhaps, heartbreaking.

Drawings precedes a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, in December 2023, and a larger presentation in Los Angeles in 2024. Gagosian will also exhibit two new wall works by Wolfson at Art Basel 2023 (June 15–18). From June 13 to 18, the gallery will be open from 10am to 7pm daily.

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