Uncovering America, one image at a time — Travis Diehl

Art Basel, 03.24.2021

Author Travis Diehl reflects on the pathbreaking practices of seven US artists featured in ‘OVR: Pioneers’

In a country as wide, weird, and wolfish as the US, it can be difficult to untangle the complex political and sociological currents that shape individual lives. Holding a mirror up to power is an age-old artistic endeavor: one that has become more urgent as this complexity increases. From decoding military imaging software to new readings of the racisms inherent in images, read on to discover how seven artists featured in ‘OVR: Pioneers’ are taking a decidedly contemporary approach to iconography.

To appropriate the appropriator is one way to see what they omit. Deborah Kass’s ‘Warhol Project’ series (1992–2000) rephrases the pop artist’s best-known works, from Triple Elvis (1963) to Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), with different models. In several works, Kass (b. 1952) swapped Jackie Kennedy, an emblem of housewifely Wasp perfection, for camp icon Barbra Streisand, her famous nose in profile; author Gertrude Stein is a reoccurring figure as well. In others, she appears herself. Kass’s series rephrases Warhol’s portrayals of stereotypical American celebrity to celebrate the contributions of queer and Jewish artists to the country’s cultural heritage. Kass also reprised Warhol’s ‘Most Wanted’ silkscreens, his comment on the thin line between notoriety and celebrity, but with a series of contemporary artists, curators, and critics (on view in Chicago gallery Kavi Gupta’s Viewing Room) – wanted not for their crimes but their networks.