De Buck Gallery is pleased to announce Traffics in Icons, an upcoming solo exhibition by French street artist Zevs, on view from September 12 – October 26, 2013 and accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by curator Stamatina Gregory. An opening reception will be held at the gallery on September 12 from 6-8 PM. The artist is scheduled to attend. This exhibition also marks the grand opening of De Buck Gallery’s new ground-floor location at 545 West 23rd Street.
The giants of art history self-evidently serve as a starting point for Zevs’ newest series of “Illuminated” Old Master works, as reiterations of famous paintings by artists such as Titian and Goya are layered with the artist’s unique treatment. Here, Zevs specifically plays upon the myth of Danae, in which the god Zeus came to princess Danae in the form of a golden shower, impregnating her and thereby siring the hero Perseus. In focusing upon the deeds of his namesake, Zevs the artist takes on the role of god in relation not only to Danae herself but also to the original paintings and their creators, altering the viewer’s perception of the Old Masters nearly as drastically as Zeus’ actions affected the life of Danae. In the process, Zevs “illuminates” the Old Masters with his own form of branding. His trademark liquidations of currency symbols and the eye of the CBS logo ornament the voluptuous nudes who have represented Danae across past centuries. Even the intervention itself has a historical background, as Zevs has cited a 1985 attack on Rembrandt’s portrayal of Danae, which left the canvas with dripping areas of paint, in a way reminiscent of his own work, as part of his inspiration for the series.
While Danae of lore was bathed in a shower of gold, Zevs takes the liberty to modernize the myth, bathing her instead in today’s most popular form of gold – currency ranging from the yen to the euro to the dollar, literally raining tangible wealth upon these mythological figures. The CBS logo lends another layer of meaning to the series, as it serves simultaneously as the eye of the viewer/beholder and comments upon the role of the media in how society perceives the female body, something that has changed drastically since the advent of Hollywood and television, and the god-like power of the media today. Thus Zevs successfully combines his consciousness of 21st century society with the aura of the great artists of the past, whose historical eras were never dominated by commercial institutions in the way that they are today.
In sharp contrast to the elegant classicism of the Illuminated series, suddenly we are brought back into the realm of the 21st century, as liquidations of Silicon Valley icons – Apple, Microsoft and Facebook among them, fill the gallery space. Tying these two contrasting groups of work together is The New Supper (pictured), in which the artist juxtaposes a 2011 photo of a “meeting of the minds” at the White House featuring Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and President Obama, against Da Vinci’s Last Supper. What is essentially a publicity shot is given the stature of biblical significance, and the artist’s intention of confirming the omniscient nature of technology and the media is made clear.
In short, Zevs reinvigorates classic, familiar paintings and mythology with a purely modern sensibility. Just as he has “violated” photographs of celebrities and “kidnapped” figures from billboards in the past, this series represents his intervention in another realm of culture – fine art rather than advertising – giving the Old Master works a personal twist and one that bespeaks his trademark concerns with the omnipresence of commercial society while still respectfully preserving historic masterpieces. In the words of Zevs, this treatment serves to “prolong that which already exists in the meaning and visual aspect of each picture,” essentially modernizing mythology in the 21st century.
Zevs was born in France in 1977, and first gained renown as a street artist in Paris during the 1990s. Today he is best known for his trademark “liquidation” technique, in which he transforms seemingly solid images into evocatively dripping ones that are perhaps more unstable than they seem. Zevs has experimented with a number of methods in his graffiti, canvases, and performances that help him to subvert the unmistakably ubiquitous commercial and Hollywood driven culture of the twenty-first century. In the past, this has included a high profile “kidnapping” of a figure from a billboard, an infamous arrest following his creation of a large-scale mural of a liquidated Chanel logo in Hong Kong, and his Visual Violations series, in which he blurs out the faces of cultural icons such as Jim Morrison and Marilyn Monroe. In combining a street art mentality with a Pop Art usage of popular culture in a way reminiscent of Warhol, Zevs’ work manages to both highlight and subvert what is, in many ways, the very essence of contemporary culture.
Zevs has participated in exhibitions and performances worldwide, including at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris), 2010 Moscow Biennial, Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek (Copenhagen), the Mechelen Cultural Center and the historic Cabaret Voltaire (Zurich). He currently lives and works in Paris and Berlin.