Thomas Doyle, Acceptable losses, 2008, Mixed media, 40.6 x 34.3 cm diameter, Courtesy of Amanda Erlanson, © Thomas Doyle.

Will Cotton, Cotton Candy Katy, 2010, Oil on linen, 183 x 214 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Mary Boone Gallery.

Thomas Doyle, Null cipher, 2006, Mixed media, 35.6 x 34.9 x 34.9 cm, © Thomas Doyle.

Surveying Contemporary American Dreamers and the State of the Dream

Patrick Jacobs, Interior with View of the Gowanus Heights, 2011, Diorama viewed through 5 inch window, 73.7 x 53.3 x 53.3 cm, © Patrick Jacobs and Pierogi Gallery, New York.

Patrick Jacobs, Fairy Ring with English Daisies, 2010, Installation view: diorama viewed through 7.5 inch window, 91.4 x 121.9 x 91.4 cm, © Patrick Jacobs and Pierogi Gallery, New York.

Richard Deon, Weehawken 2, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 147.3 x 119.4 cm, © Richard Deon.

Laura Ball, Web, 2009, Watercolour on paper, 50.8 x 43.2 cm, © Laura Ball and Morgan Lehman Gallery, New York.

Thomas Doyle, Acceptable losses (detail), 2008, Mixed media, 40.6 x 34.3 cm, © Thomas Doyle


Palazzo Strozzi
Piazza Strozzi
+ 39 055 2645155
American Dreamers. Reality and Imagination
in Contemporary American Art

March 8-July 15, 2012

American Dreamers. Reality and Imagination in Contemporary American Art, an exhibition organised in conjunction with the Hudson River Museum (Yonkers, New York) and curated by Bartholomew Bland, comprises a reflection on the work of artists who use their fantasy, their imagination and their dreams to build alternative worlds to the increasingly complex and difficult reality of life today.

Does the "American dream" still exist? Since September 11, 2011 the United States of America has witnessed the collapse of its sense of invulnerability and security, but at the same time a spirit of optimism, the ability to imagine and to dream, the will to carry on believing in a future with a happy ending through work and through the triumph of the values of freedom and of equality of opportunity, have maintained their central place in the very idea of "being American" and of the "American dream." The latter promises success and happiness constantly fuelled by the fantasy of Hollywood and by the aesthetics adopted in the advertising campaigns of such leading multinational brands as Coca Cola or Walt Disney. Fleeing reality is a way of fighting against the complex difficulties of life today: a psychological break with reality or the creation of a better alternative become strategies for escaping from such concrete and very real threats as rising unemployment, the negative international financial situation, or forecasts of impending environmental doom.

The 11 American artists involved in the exhibition (Laura Ball, Adrien Broom, Nick Cave, Will Cotton, Adam Cvijanovic, Richard Deon, Thomas Doyle, Mandy Greer, Kirsten Hassenfeld, Patrick Jacobs and Christy Rupp) resort to their imagination to produce a personal revisitation of reality or at times even a flight from that reality, through the construction of parallel, alternative worlds which explicitly turn their backs on "true" reality. Some of the works condense the essence of reality into miniaturised systems while others expand outwards into space, creating worlds in which spectators can immerse themselves in parallel realities, and yet others feed on fantastic, dreamlike images or reflect on such symbolic themes as the home and the family which continue even today to play a central role in the construction of the myth of the “American way of life”.

For some artists the construction of fantasy worlds represents their own personal critique of contemporary society, for others it enables them to create alternative solutions in which to rediscover meanings and values that appear to have been lost in today's world. Some of the artists also seem to share an interest in manual skills echoing the principles of outmoded manufacturing methods or alternative ways of organising life, espousing a deliberately unconventional attitude in an effort to combat the principles of serial production and the excessive speed that is demanded by contemporary society.

The exhibition attempts to explore these different issues revealing the language of the artists involved in order to create parallel worlds that, in many cases, are in sharp contrast with each other. The show opens with a site-specific work by Adam Cvijanovic (1960), whose wall painting draws visitors into a visual illusion, a surprising panorama that portrays an idyllic and typically American urban landscape that can be interpreted in two different ways: is it being demolished or built? Will Cotton has created an unreal world of overabundance in which everything becomes cotton candy, custard and cream, merging references to the American pop culture (from the singer Katy Perry to Candy Land, a board game that is immensely popular among American children) and art history (18th-century French painting by artists such as François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard). However, Nick Cave (1959) displays a selection of his Soundsuits, “indestructible sculptures” that are colourful and extravagant, the instrument for a multisensory experience in the amplification of the movement of the limbs and for the creation of unexpected sound effects when the artist uses them as costumes for his performances.

The exhibition continues with the apocalyptic imagination of Thomas Doyle (1976). In his works, at close range, the most attentive observer discovers that seemingly serene and controlled micro-worlds are actually dramatic realities that express the precariousness of the human condition using the symbols of middle-class life such as the home, yard and family in alienating, catastrophic and sometimes sarcastic settings. Starting with stereotyped images, Richard Deon (1956) stages his personal and evocative aesthetics, which he defines as “social surrealism”. With pictorial works in different formats that interact with the surrounding space, Deon creates scenes of people and places that emerge like surreal paradoxes and play with images and situations that look familiar, using the graphic forms and figures typical of the civics handbooks of the 1950s.

Uniting references to art history with the languages of advertising and fashion, Adrien Broom (1980) creates visions of women poised between reality and dreams, inspired by figures ranging from the dramatic character of Shakespeare’s Ophelia to the images of saints in ecstatic adoration before the divine, typical of Baroque art. The sensation of suspension can also be found in the work Laura Ball (1972). Through the fluidity of watercolour, the artist creates a world populated by allegorical images that are constantly changing and that dialogue with her self-portrait, clearly an allusion to Jungian psychoanalysis. Fears and dreams acquire a bodily form as if in a game of free association and with a highly imaginative style.

In the next room Kirsten Hassenfeld’s (1971) works use commonplace materials such as recycled gift-wrapping paper to create hanging sculptures, set at the evanescent boundary between the enigmatic and the domestic. They are juxtaposed with Christy Rupp‘s (1949) works, which reflect on the issues of mass production and the exploitation of animals in industrial processes. Both artists unite references to the decorative tradition of the Arts and Crafts Movement with elements of contemporary sociopolitical condemnation. Rupp’s sculptures of extinct birds evoke the skeletons exhibited at museums of natural history, but they are actually made from countless bone fragments collected by the artist from the rubbish outside fast-food restaurants, the emblems of today’s materialistic consumerism. Hassenfeld instead uses an ephemeral material such as paper to create objects and installations whose immense evocative power takes us to a separate dimension, exalting the value of art in finding new meanings and new values in objects and materials that our society considers to be mere waste.

Mandy Greer (1973) has made a site-specific spatial installation that visitors can explore as if it were a sort of fantastical forest. Using the art of crocheting with inserts of various materials, she creates sculptural objects with a biological and phytomorphic appearance that allude to the stories and images of mythological worlds, combining shamanism and Native American traditions. In the room devoted to Patrick Jacobs‘s (1971) work, visitors find small windows that allow them to peer into dioramas. Close up, this reveals miniatures of imaginary worlds, which reconstruct in detail the subjective visions of lawns or the interiors of an apartment and fool the observer, who is forced to wonder if he is gazing at something real or if it is merely an illusion.

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011, Mixed media, 250 x 70 x 35 cm each, Photo: James Prinz/Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011, Mixed media, Approx. 280 cm high, Photo: James Prinz/Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Mandy Greer, Honey Moon Chamber, 2011, Gold-coloured pieces, strings and mirrors, 3 x 3.50 m, Installation view at Roq La Rue Gallery, Seattle, Photo: Mark Woods, Courtesy of the artist.

Christy Rupp, Brinkiness, 2007-8, Mixed media, 40.6 x 50.8 cm, © Christy Rupp.