Home » VoCA Applauds….Brian Sholis on Brian Jungen in Art Forum.

VoCA Applauds….Brian Sholis on Brian Jungen in Art Forum.

“What separates true artistic development from mere rehashing?” asks Artforum’s Brian Sholis in his review of Canadian art star Brian Jungen’s new show at Casey Kaplan in New York.

Artist Brian Jungen. Image: voyage5capefarewell.com

“Some artists focus exclusively upon a narrow set of concerns but manage to find nuanced and varied expressions of them. Jungen, though formally creative, seems to be on intellectual autopilot.”

“When Jungen embarked on this path ten years ago, it could be argued, consciousness of the truly global reach of western popular culture and consumer goods was less widespread. Now that he has created all the accoutrements necessary to outfit a First Nations tourist village, it seems time for Jungen to aim for more than juxtaposition.”

Brian Jungen, Blanket no. 3, 2008. Image: caseykaplangallery.com


While we agree that Jungen is a wonderful maker of very special objects, his work hasn’t matured beyond obvious juxtaposition. Since the famous sculptures that he made by transforming Nike Air Jordans into First Nations masks, we’ve been waiting. It hasn’t happened yet – and finally another critic has said as much.

Brian Jungen, Shapeshifter, 2000. Image: catrionajeffries.com

Brian Jungen, Talking Sticks (Installation view), 2005. Image: catrionajeffries.com

We reviewed Jungen’s work for Lola in back 2002 – unpaid and admittedly not well-written (it’s quite harsh) but our general opinion remains unchanged….have a look:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Pick up the summer issue of Art Forum to read Sholis’s review, or read an excellent interview between Jungen and Jessica Morgan in Qvest magazine – right HERE.

Brian Jungen is represented by Catriona Jeffries. Please click HERE.

Check out his show at Casey Kaplan in New York HERE.

19 Responses to “VoCA Applauds….Brian Sholis on Brian Jungen in Art Forum.”

  1. john says:

    sholis is playing a cheap trick:set up a straw man [his shallow take on jungen] and knocking it down ;easy and lazy.

  2. The Sholis essay is online here. Where do you suggest Jungen take his work next?

  3. Andrea says:

    Oh cheers for that – i couldn’t find it..

  4. You’re welcome.

    What do you think though? What is beyond juxtaposition? Where do you want to see the work go?

  5. Hi. I like your site, but on this I think your method is faulty. It’s weak to announce the meaning of an artist’s work and then say he hasn’t moved beyond it. (Your announcement, not the artist’s) Morandi painted the same bottles on the same table for 30 years. Small variations on a theme can be enormous. What did Cezanne do, besides rendering the world in its fragility, temporary as a soap bubble? Critics driven by theory, especially rigid, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately theory, can’t see past their next post. You are too good for this. Evolve, please. Regina Hackett, Art to Go

  6. Andrea says:

    Well I wouldn’t really say where I think Jungen should take his work – that’s up to him – but I do think that Rebecca Belmore’s work (see June 18 posting) has quite an interesting, more complex take on her First Nations heritage…

  7. sally says:

    I think Jungen’s work goes beyond juxtaposition. Cultural hybridity is not the just the clash of two forces, it’s the evolution of new entities that have their own agency. Jungen pulls this off, his objects have their own potent presence, more powerful than the sum of their parts. Seems like this is getting boring to Sholis, but I think its a rich territory and Jungen should keep mining it as long as its working for him. Sholis’ review is very NYC, as if art critics were customers demanding new new new product. Artists don’t always work that way.

  8. I thought the Sholis review was very NYC too, Sally. In fact Paddy Johnson’s review excerpted here, was remarkably similar to that of Sholis in sentiment. The comments for that review are fascinating to read. Nancy Tousley, at The Calgary Herald wrote a very measured review of the exhibition here
    Talk about juxtapositions!

  9. Andrea says:

    Hi Regina,

    Thanks for the comment – point taken. But for me, Jungen’s work has always been about juxtaposition – and I just don’t think that’s going deep enough. I feel that he work has always been ‘neat’ but not really much more…Not my cup of tea. I suppose, though, that it’s art made for the age of advertising..

  10. Forgive me for asking, I’m clear when you say the Jungen’s work is not your cup of tea but I can’t help wondering if it is really accurate to say it’s “about juxtaposition”. There is barely a work of art created that does not employ juxtapositions, think of the pale skin of Cranach’s Lucretia set dramatically against a jet black background…is the painting about juxtapositions? And speaking of art made for the age of advertising, Hirschhorn’s work, Four Women (2008) employs juxtaposition – is it about juxtaposition?

  11. Robert Einsmann says:

    I’ve said it before but…

    what did you make of this jungen fuk making masks from running shoes? nicely made, but i think the curator of the vag was smoking crack “the most exciting work to come around in a long while”. are we so desparate for art gods that we worship unresolved works? “michael jordan is buying one for 30,000″ give me a fukkin break, who cares? jungen says he wanted to make masks from objects of utility? take a number. what does making objects from objects of utility have to do with making utilitarian objects that have no function, but aesthetic function??? maybe he should have made running shoes from masks, that would have made more sense. he could rip off the dutch make wooden mask shoes or something. (yes this is a parody) maybe he should consider making objects from other shit that wal mart makes in china in sweatshops ,maybe he could make a whale form lawn chairs that were made in some unregulated plastic factory. oh ya, he did that.

  12. So … you’ve said this before have you?

  13. emelie says:

    I completely agree with sally.
    “Cultural hybridity is not the just the clash of two forces, it’s the evolution of new entities that have their own agency”
    I will add that perhaps it takes someone who is of mixed background to understand that Jungen’s work is very complex and in a league of its own. In my opinion Jungen’s work is a kin to the work of Stan Douglas – who is beyond brilliant (and also mixed!)

  14. Nick Brown says:

    Emelie, it’s fitting that you cite Stan Douglas (possibly my favourite Vancouver artist) because VoCA recently expressed a failure to account for his success internationally. As such, I don’t know if you’ll get very far with your line of reasoning ;)

    That said, while I feel on the one hand that Jungen’s work is far more complex than is accounted for in the expression “juxtaposition”– the fact of Jungen’s own heritage as mixed First Nations and European, taken into account with the dynamism inherent in Aboriginal cultures (I’m referencing Jimmy Durham here) makes the work all the harder to pin down– I do get the feeling that Jungen is spreading himself a bit thin. This might have something to do with his massive success worldwide (did anyone else feel that his show at Witte de With forced him to bear the brunt of so much postcolonial theory in addition to the weight of Vancouver’s artistic legacy? Namecheck the catalogue’s contributors, it’s a big jump from the material in the VAG’s catalogue). I think the Casey Kaplan show is an example of the artist being saddled with excessive demands on production, leading to possible burnout. But that’s just the feeling I get.

    Anyway, it’s one thing to say his work has gotten repetitive, it’s another to misunderstand its potential multivalent readings due to slick and deceptively simple appearances.

    Lastly, I take exception to the statement, “I do think that Rebecca Belmore’s work (see June 18 posting) has quite an interesting, more complex take on her First Nations heritage…”

    Rebecca Belmore is coming at her work from a different background and different points of inquiry. I think it’s terribly reductive to position these artists against one another just because they are two successful artists of First Nations heritage. I would urge you to be careful of such, ahem, juxtapositions.

  15. Sonny says:

    Comparing Jungen to Belmore is like comparing apples to oranges: They are both fruit, but completely different. Belmore has a stronger political impact, where Jugen is trying to find a voice for the hybriity… His work, although poignant, lacks a political edge. BUT, it is there if you dig. But then again, not every artist needs to be political. Belmore explores the notion of Indian Identity, where Jugen exploits it. He makes no distinction between the specific tribal groups he is referencing. To an extent has pissed off a lot of traditional artists and elders who are fighting to make it know that not all Indians are the same. Appropriation is a bad word when you stick it in front of Indian art. But BJ appropriates from not only the western culture, but from Aboriginal cultures from across Canada. In a way, addressing the stereotype that all Indians are the same. Probably the strongest undertone to his work.

    Perhaps a better comparison would be to Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. And on that note, we should recognize that BJ was not the first to create hybrid juxtaposition Aboriginal/Western art. However, again, LPY has a stronger political bite to his work, and his personality.

    In speaking with LPY, it became evident to me that he makes the surrealist paintings for a reason. And I’ve always been curious as to why an artist would produce such a large body of work at has lost a bit of its edge. To me, as an artist, it almost defeated the purpose of having people think constructively about the work, instead of the been there done that. In fact LPY mentioned to me that he still does his surrealist work to fund himself and his ideas for new directions. He recognizes that its gone as far as it can go, but he still makes it, because people will buy it. Is that wrong? It almost sounds like the opposite of an artist. The notion of the starving artist just doesn’t need to fly for everyone, and why should it? Find your niche and ride it as long as you can. Maybe this is where BJ is going… maybe he’s pumping out the stuff people want to fund something else… something new.

    This is something I’ve been struggling with as an artist: where do I draw the line? When do I say enough with that you want, I need to move on. I constantly fear I’ll become known for one thing and once I hit that point, I won’t be able to do anything else. Its kinda like TV actors… Screech from Saved By the Bell for example… f*ck, anyone on that show. They can do something completely different from what they are known for, but you will always see him as Screech. There comes a tipping point, when you know you can keep going as Screech or mix it up. Screech paid the bills for a long time, but I bet Dustin Diamond would love to go back in time and tell himself to get out before its too late. Then again, its also about talant. Tom Hanks played a cross-dressing dude in Bosom Buddies in his early career, but his talent as an actor help us see past that one small campy roll.

    A new direction might open you up to a whole new market or it can flop misserably. LPY has been painting his surrealist works for nearly 20 years, and shows no signs of retiring that idea…he has a market. But the pressure is on the young artists, the big deals, the art stars, to produce new and thought provoking work all the time. But why? is our art pool that shallow?

    BJ’s evolution is something for him to decide. A critic mentioning it is time to move on, might give him some insight to take that step. Then again, we don’t know what he does with his studio time. Maybe his minions pump out the work that sells and he sits around and comes up with awesome ideas all day.

    Its interesting how you refer to him as an art star in a previous post, that in away, almost says he’s beyond art. That all he needs to do is barf on a napkin, proclaim he’s Brian Jugen and get a free meal. Art Star… Its almost like an insult. But Andy Warhol was THEE art star and his work is as powerful as ever. We all try to be a star… its western culture… we want to be the next big thing. But art doesn’t work that way. And BJ’s personality is not one to align with “stardom”, he seems like a humble dude. Then again, I only met him briefly once. Art star is like a Pop Star… pretty packaging, low on content. Are we to expect BJ to drop off the spectrum for a decade or so, to have him come back on a campy reality TV show?

    I have faith he has something cooking that will give the critics/public something to chew on.

  16. Andrea says:

    Thanks – it’s great to be having this dialogue and to hear everyone’s perspectives – especially from other artists. For me, there is much to admire in Brian Jungen’s work, especially when you first encounter it. But it’s like he opens the door into a closet – you look around and it’s dazzling, but how deep does it go? Whereas I find there is other artists’ work that opens the door into a whole world…

  17. john says:

    What is the value of such reductive criticism? Artforum recently ran a review of Shirin Neshat which was nasty on top of unhelpful towards understanding her work.Sholis’s text may seem more even-handed,but nevertheless reduces our chances of finding a world beyond the door which Jungen opens.This is not to suggest we or art writers must like everything.If Sholis failed to grasp why others liked scotch or medieval music or baseball ,he wouldn’t remain credible if he declared that scotch was brown and bitter and distillers ought to move on to new things.His appreciation of Jungen is equally developed.So why applaud Sholis ?Why this schadenfreude towards Jungen and others?

  18. Lea says:

    As an artist I have a very different take that has not been yet been mentioned. To say the Mr. Jungens’ work is only a work juxtapositioning does it a great disservice. What one might see is the work is more of dialog about the the amalgamation between the native and the (so called) western culture (which ironically is what Mr Jungen is himself) and naturally: western consummerism (can one have western culture with out that?). One might believe that his work is about the (figurative and none)disappearing landscapes (ie. poles and masks and old bones) and these is being replaced, culturally and otherwise, with junk. Imagine what coming generations will dig up and find in two-three hundred years or even thousands on us? It is really and possible he knows this and carries on anyway?

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