One does not simply walk into the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue. Inside a luxury multi-office building, you must ask the reception guard which one is the appropriate elevator to the top. The atmosphere is ever grandiose, unlike the Gagosian’s walk-in friendly location in Chelsea. The Bob Dylan “Revisionist Art” room is down the gallery staircase, through a sterile office hallway, and behind a glass door. It is strange.
There was no reception with the artist last week, no big to-do about the opening. These are the only two images officially authorized by the Gagosian to the press. So what were we looking at? 30 tall, smooth, glossy canvases of faux-magazine covers, a mish-mosh of bondage, baby, and mainstream staple titles juxtaposed with seemingly random lead images and article names. There is, of course, some system to it — historical allusions, satire, deliberately counterintuitive absurdism, pop culture critique — it’s just that none of it is very good.
There are a few adequate jokes here and there, but when you see unclothed, unmanicured female crotch on the cover of Architectural Digest, put there by the brilliant lyricist who wrote “Highway 61 Revisited,” it makes one uneasy, regardless of how favorably one may feel about female crotch.
As an art critic, one could strain and imagine that the incomprehensible text is actually Dylan’s of very, very dry commentary on the media machine. Aside from stylistic consistency, there’s nothing much winning about the work on a purely aesthetic, visual level. Giant. Glossy. Bombastic. But maybe… the seemingly random juxtaposition of decades — say, Marilyn as Sharon Stone — could be commentary on the media industry’s incessantly regurgitated headlines untethered by time, its same-formatted sex-baiting themes recycled over and over. The barren pop culture references — take “Bare-Bosomed Courtney Love Strikes Back!” when Dylan could have made so many other Courtney Love allusions better suited to satire — aren’t nonsensical at all, they’re commentary on the shallow nonsense that is the media. Maybe there’s even a feminist-y Barbara Kruger-esque text art oomph to it all? Maybe, that is, if you want to get really pretentious. And wrong.
Or maybe we’re taking this critique too seriously? There was an occasional sputter of chuckles from half dozen of visibly confused people in the gallery on the day I visited. I remember grinning, but I can’t remember at what. One prim older woman poked her head in and squawked excitedly at the receptionist: “Is this the Bob Dylan?” “Yes.” “The Bob Dylan, really?” “Yes.”
From “the Internet” point of view, had these been a bit more cohesive and catchier, we’d enjoy viewing them in a clickable post, chortling in our cubicles a bit, or what not. But what are these doing in a blue-chip art gallery, especially after Dylan’s last painfully mediocre painting exhibit at the Gagosian was outed for uncredited plagiarizing of images by famous photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Dmitri Kessel, leaving him less than dignified and with much to prove?
Hmm. So, there’s this Russian joke, OK? Two New Russians are boasting about their luxury yachts and swank town houses, when one goes: “Oh yeah? Well, I’ve got a rare Stradivari piano.” “I thought he made violins,” the other scoffs. “Ah, but yes, that is why it is so rare!” Bob Dylan made deep contributions to music culture, but these canvases are nothing more than novelty trinkets for the very rich, assuming anyone would want to actually buy them.