The following is an art review I wrote for Art New England. The show was called Dreams of the East. The artist’s name is David Shapiro, who operates out of Brooklyn, New York City. The New Haven, CT venue in which the show appeared is an upscale backyard garage operation called Grand Projects.
Dreams of the East is an eight-painting installation incorporating “Orientalist” themes culled from the contemporary mass media. The images were rendered in fluorescent paint on canvas and brought to life under black light. (To this reviewer’s knowledge, the technique has never been used.) The black light is flipped on and off at five-minute intervals, illustrating how the West selectively tunes in and tunes out the Pantheons of fame and the Underworlds of otherness.
When the black lights are off, the paintings are dull red or violet silhouettes. When the black light flips on, the paintings take on an eerie glow similar to television screens. They are freeze frames of famous white women in Arab harems; masked revolutionaries running towards the screen; celebrities like Whitney Houston, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt visiting downtrodden peoples; and early Danish Internet pornography. Some of the images were faked on many levels, such as Anna Kournikova: Hot! Fake! Pic!, which is a photo of the tennis star’s face superimposed on the body of an anonymous porn star posing in a harem. Therefore, the image is triply or even quaternarily removed from reality.
The contemporary images in Dreams were culled from the Internet and television, yet the subjects recapitulate the works of such masters as Duccio, Gros, and Delacroix. Nobody Leading the People, for example, is a twist on Delecroix’s Liberty Leading the People.
While Liberty depicts a violent revolutionary charge led by an ideal manifested as a common woman, Nobody depicts Haitian rebels charging towards the camera, storming the viewer.
Dreams of the East is a veritable catacombs of ideas, themes, subtexts, tropes, and theories. There are multitudes of access points into the catacombs, and every turn yields another series of choices. The intensity and thoroughness of both technique and concept make this installation a true original.