What are the youth to do when the ceiling of capitalism is caving in around them? Anthony White’s exhibition Smoke and Mirrors at Greg Kucera Gallery provides a few object lessons. If you are twenty something and possessed of a gorgeous body plus instant digital access to the entire world, you might:
- Float topless in a pool rolling smoke off of your tongue as brightly colored junk food wrappers pile up around you in a microcosm of the great Pacific Trash pile the artist has titled Thicc Water.
- Seek love (but only the heart emoji kind) with a sexy mirror selfie, a la Disco Inferno, a damaged valentine of a painting on a neon pink heart-shaped canvas.
- Create faux luxury out of all the plastic that has begun to irreversibly pile up around you by doodling Balenciaga bags and wads of hundreds and matches (a single pragmatic essential for the post-apocalypse) into existence with a 3D drawing pen.
This is White’s medium, and it’s probably not archival, but it doesn’t seem to matter in a world that seems stuck in an ever-heightening fever dream of consumerism, where sales of Gucci have never been higher and homelessness is on the rise. It’s a version of ‘lol nothing matters,’ that seems to be the prevailing attitude of a world facing multiple existential crises at once.
White’s show (at first glance) is pure eye-candy, all lovely bodies and ornate patterns and luxury goods and clever compositions. But it’s exactly this proliferation of excess that tips it over the edge into a place of vague terror. Louis Vuitton logos and Coca-cola receive equal deference in White’s scattershot land of labels. Like Audrey Flack’s jam-packed memento mori paintings of the late ‘70s, White’s still lives are a fun visual exercise in brand recognition and cross-cultural overlap. But, as memento mori are wont to do, the paintings push on our pain points through the lure of pleasure. Rather than rotting fruit and ashes to ashes, White’s trash piles remind us that we, along with our planet, are quite literally dying by our own hand, like, this very instant. The ‘overripe strawberries’ of these paintings are the artist and his generation, seen poignantly polishing their Instagram images in crooked gilt frames. The plastic still-life wrappers and mass-produced toys themselves will surely never die. In this plastic world, as in ours, the fragile human body (painted with the glory and assured invincibility that only the young can have) is commodified in equal measure with these objects. While this has surely been true throughout all of history, White places it upon the table with the innocence that only a young artist can- that commodification of our privacy, our lives, and our very bodies, a fact we (olds) once tried to bury or truss up with our proclamations of a Brave New World is so nakedly and terrifyingly on view to a generation just now coming of age.