Pettibon’s World


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Romance Readers Guide to Historic London by Sonja Rouillard

April 16, 2017

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Private collection, Los Angeles/Regen Projects Raymond Pettibon: No Title (Ripped and wrinkled), 2008

If genius means anything anymore—for me it is the union of inexplicably keen insight with an uncanny capacity to say or show what others fail to articulate but everybody knows—then the artist Raymond Pettibon is one, the man of the hour at minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock. Fittingly, two exhibitions this spring, “TH’EXPLOSIYV SHOYRT T,” now at the David Zwirner Gallery, and “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” which recently closed at the New Museum, show an artist obsessed with the larger, grittier, and often hallucinatory contradictions of “this American life.”

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David ZwirnerRaymond Pettibon: No Title (Don’t lose sight…), 2016

Organized by the indefatigable curator and art-world networker Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum show opened with a wall featuring a chronologically and stylistically synoptic array of drawings devoted to The Bomb; one, portraying a well-dressed woman looking at the blast, is laconically inscribed “Christina’s World.” Since 1945 bombs of all types and degrees of destructiveness—from Fat Boy to the Mother of All Bombs—have been emblems of modern life. A child of the “duck-and-cover” generation, Pettibon has thus lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation his entire life. The artist hasn’t gotten over the shock of learning that the world he had just entered might be over before he aged out of it.

Facing this cavalcade of mushroom clouds was a wall of queered super-hero drawings in which Superman and Batman reveal through combat and tough-guy repartee the degree to which they share the same ambiguously masculine DNA. The pair created an unnerving shock corridor of machismo, violence, and dread that opens out at either end on galleries crammed to overflowing with more of the same but with varying motifs. They were laid out in thematically subdivided clusters that similarly intermingle spare, awkward, early black-and-white sheets with colorful, overcharged, differently awkward late work on paper—sometimes accented by spasmodic pictorial eruptions and verbal ejaculations brushed directly onto the high white walls, as if the museum itself were an annex of Pettibon’s convoluted mental nodes. Call it Punk Muralism.

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So Big by Edna Ferber

1924