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“Bill McMullen wields a light-saber wit all his own… Think Bruce Nauman meets blaxploitation: funky but chic, subversively milking high art for cheap laughs.”
Checks Cashed is the new gallery show by beloved/notorius artist Bill McMullen, opening July 31st, 2010 at Los Angeles’ HVW8 Art + Design Gallery. The show is all about subverting history with absurd pop-cultured imagery. The new work from the Southern California bred, NYC-based McMullen embraces both Situationism and situation comedy, landing in between with its confrontational black-and-white monochrome language of punk rock flyers and escort-service ads. It’s at once familiar, entertaining, and disturbing, especially to a new generation of consumers who’ve never had to deal with anything like the economic failure, war, or the environmental disasters of today.
McMullen is renowned for his witty, pointed combination of high art presentation, graphic design immediacy, and street art’s confrontational boldness. He’s as well known for his KidRobot toys, Adidas designs, and Beastie Boys album covers as he is for his gallery shows, and he blends that provocative sensibility into Checks Cashed. Rooted in the visual language familiar to those living paycheck to paycheck, Checks Cashed picks up where McMullen’s previous exhibition at L.A.’s Constant Gallery, 2009’s Hype, Hustle, Rip Off, left off (“Fantastic cutting-edge art – definitely worth seeking out,” SlamXHype raved; “McMullen’s work ultimately resonates because it does more than brand, copy, market, and elevate,” noted Limité). But where Hype… demonstrated McMullen’s multimedia ADD (turning R2D2 into a boombox, reconfiguring Starbucks and Coca-Cola logos into camo combat gear) in his new work, McMullen strips away his relentless, Times Square-meets-Roppongi color palette. Instead, he focuses on the iconic, harsh black-and-white half-tone of old-school newspapers and pre-Internet Xeroxed ‘zines – even down to painting the exhibition walls black, contradicting the traditional gallery “white cube.”
Here, McMullen combines the radical photomontage of Barbara Kruger and John Heartfield, the pop appropriation of Richard Prince and Andy Warhol, and the irreverent cut-and-paste sampling of hip-hop – all with the flavor of someone known for, say, designing Method Man album covers. Ultimately, Checks Cashed compels because of that same contradiction: putting his money where his mouth is, McMullen balances conceptual toughness with advertising’s seductive surfaces and the irreverence of urban culture. – Matt Diehl