Meg emailed me about this forthcoming Ed Paschke exhibition, curated by Jeff Koons, a few months ago. I can’t remember if WTF?? was actually stated in the email or just implied, but we both kind of rolled our eyes and thought, whatever. I replied that the Koons curation part maybe wasn’t so bad — Koons was Paschke’s assistant, after all, and Koons has often expressed his admiration for Paschke, who died in 2004 (see the MCA Chicago’s 2008 exhibition “Everything’s Here” for one example).Â But this morning I noticed the following Tweet: “Jeff Koons gets a second chance: his show of former employer Paschke’s work @Gagosian opens Thursday.” Ugh. It more than sucks that this exhibition of Paschke’s work, which no doubt will rock the house, is already being framed as some kind of Jeff Koons extravaganza. Or even worse, as Koons’ chance at redemption, a way to show that he does, indeed, have some fragment of a soul.
Luckily, the Gagosian Gallery itself has thus far refused to improperly hype this show (other than by having Jeff Koons curate it in the first place, some might argue). But the gallery’s press release is comprehensive and focused. At the top, the text notes that Koons worked as Paschke’s studio assistant in Chicago in the mid-1970s while the former was attending the School of the Art Institute. A line or two follows about Koons’ admiration for Paschke. But the rest of the two-page text is devoted to Paschke himself, as it should be. It’s a very well-writtenÂ release, so I don’t feel the need to paraphrase. A couple of excerpts:
“Born in Chicago in 1939, Paschke studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago during the
height of the Imagist movement in the late fifties, while supporting himself as a commercial
artist. He avidly collected photograph-related visual media in all its forms, from newspapers,
magazines, and posters to film, television, and video, with a preference for imagery that tended
toward the risquÃ© and the marginal. Through this he studied the ways in which these media
transformed and stylized the experience of reality, which in turn impacted on his consideration
of formal and philosophical questions concerning veracity and invention in his own painting. At
the same time, he sought living and working situations — from factory hand to psychiatric aide –
– that would connect him with Chicagoâ€™s diverse ethnic communities as well as feed his
fascination for gritty urban life and human abnormality. Thus he developed a distinctive oeuvre
that oscillated between personal and aesthetic introspection and confronting social and cultural
“Unlike most of his Pop predecessors with their unthreatening embrace of popular culture,
Paschke gravitated towards the images that exemplified the underside of American values —
fame, violence, sex, and money â€“ a preference that he shared with Andy Warhol, who was one
of his foremost inspirations. Although long considered to be an artist of his own time and place,
his explorations of the archetypes and clichÃ©s of media identity prefigured the appropriative
gestures of the â€œPictures Generation,â€ and for a new generation of global artists his totemic,
eye-popping paintings have come to embody the essence of cosmopolitan art.”
A fully illustrated catalogue is being published in conjunction with the exhibition, with essays by Koons (natch), Dave Hickey, and reprints of significant texts on the artist by Richard Flood and Dennis Adrian. And presented concurrently here in Chicago will be a survey show titlted “Ed Paschke’s Women” from March 26 through May 22, 2010, at Russell Bowman Art Advisory.
Paschke is a well-known figure to art historians in Chicago and the Midwest, but he certainly never attained star status by anyone’s measure. No doubt it’ll be tempting for NY critics to try and frame Paschke’s work in terms of Koons, or better yet, to frame the latter’s work in terms of the former. But I hope those who see Paschke’s Gagosian show will resist this temptation and instead take his work at face value, as it were, without politicizing it or using it as an opportunity to disguise the fact that the artist they really want to write about is Jeff Koons (again….yawn.). It’s a shame that this show risks being framed via the hand that Jeff Koons has played in “presenting” it, but make no mistake: this is an Ed Paschke show, and from its outlines, at least, it promises to be a fairly significant one.