Jim Shaw, "The Wig Museum" (installation photo by Robert Wedemeyer), courtesy Marciano Art Foundation

Jim Shaw, "The Wig Museum" (installation photo by Robert Wedemeyer), courtesy Marciano Art Foundation

Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum

Are you one of those people who have difficulty making clear-cut distinctions between your night(or day)mares and the actuality of your everyday life? (I am – especially when I’m running a fever.) Jim Shaw not only gets you; he’s created a sacred space for your nightmares – a massive chambered nautilus of an installation he calls The Wig Museum. The ‘Wig Museum’ is really just an ‘exit-through-the-gift-shop’ pendant (though Shaw is fond of hair and hair-styling as a device) to a much larger vision, which, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say, is a kind of apocalyptically surreal version of that nightmare of everyday life we’re not only likely to dream but wake up to in recent months. It’s your nightmare of Western Civilization gone to hell played out somewhere between a gutted theatre, a film soundstage, and, well, Wilshire Boulevard – which happens to be just outside. Any surreal art will inevitably approach the conditions of theatre and cinema – and The Wig Museum accomplishes this magnificently. I’ve always admired the way Shaw played with his dreamscape on both large and small scale; and to incorporate history into this vision is to inevitably move towards a larger scale. Here, he not only embraces theatricality, he’s incorporated actual pieces of theatrical backdrops (from the Masonic Temple archives acquired wholesale with the physical edifice) into his installations. He also borrows uninhibitedly from the art historical canon – everyone from Michelangelo and Leonardo to Brueghel and Bosch, Blake and Fuseli, Picasso and de Chirico. There’s even a reference to Duchamp (the ‘Bride’ herself – or is it more of a reference to that dual archive-oracle of the future-present, the ‘Cloud’?). Speaking of which, clouds surround George Washington here; but unlike the ‘apotheosis’ that inspired it (somewhere between Brumidi’s Capitol dome fresco and David), this Washington appears to be vacuuming up everything in his wake. (Political commentary? And Barbara Bush might just be burning up – but can’t we blame it on global warming?) Yes, it’s the ghost of your Civilization Past come to drag you back to your dawn-of-the-dead life. So be sure to study those artfully styled piles of dead human hair on your way out. You’ll feel positively naked without one as you exit; but then, it’s summer outside and we’re all burning up. Welcome to L.A.

Marciano Art Foundation
4357 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Show runs thru September 17, 2017