Heroes, Victims, and Martyrs: Lee Wells’ Action for Freedom

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Unique military footage from the Iraq war and protest footage from Palestine, Cairo, and Rome is hidden inside Lee Wells’ Action for Freedom works at New York’s Rooster Gallery through March 13th. In the main gallery, Wells’ pseudo-abstract abstract paintings of fighters are blasted open to reveal the videos of the chaos. These, in turn, are interrupted by images of exotic dancing girls. Working in the tradition of COBRA and Fluxus artists, Lee questions the act of painting as he peels away the paint to reveal real workers fighting for their lives.

On the gallery’s lower level, a large heroic grisaille portrait of American football superstar Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in Iraq, is near six portraits of veiled nude dancing women. We’ve heard that Muslim soldiers killed in action are rewarded in heaven with virgins, yet these virgins are also fighting, in more ways than one, to be liberated. We know — and they know — that we are not supposed to look directly at their bodies. To display overt sexual identity is surprisingly moving — it’s new for them and for us. A 113-minute video “Freedom Club,” a science fiction tale about love and revolution in the post-technological age based in part on the writings of of Guy Debord and Ted Kaczynski, completes this compact yet visually exciting exhibition.

Click through below to preview a selection of works on display.

Lee Wells, The Pirate Flag, 2009. HD digital video. Duration 10:00 looping. Edition 2 of 5. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Portrait of an American Hero, 2010. Oil on canvas. 50 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Ballistic Trauma #1, 2011. Oil on panel with video on custom media player. 24 x 20 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Ballistic Trauma #2, 2011. Oil on panel with video on custom media player. 24 x 20 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Ballistic Trauma #3, 2011. Oil on panel with video on custom media player. 24 x 20 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Ballistic Trauma #4, 2011. Oil on panel with video on custom media player. 24 x 20 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Veiled Portrait of a Young Woman #1, 2011. Oil on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Veiled Portrait of a Young Woman #3, 2011. Oil on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Veiled Portrait of a Young Woman #4, 2011. Oil on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Veiled Portrait of a Young Woman #5, 2011. Oil on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery

Lee Wells, Veiled Portrait of a Young Woman #6, 2011. Oil on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy of Rooster Gallery