At BlackBook Ray Rogers talks to Hernan Bas about his paintings at Lehmann Maupin. Here’s an excerpt.
While there is definitely a through-line, the new body of work has a different feel from what’s on view across the bridge at the Brooklyn Museum.
The whole show is based on a newfound interest that I had in Futurism and 1920s Absurdist performance. The title of the show is Unpopular Forms of Expression. I feel that after the last eight years, a lot of things have been suppressed. As silly of a reference as it is, I was watching RuPaul on The View and she was talking about how she disappeared for a couple of years. She said that during the Bush Administration, she felt that the climate was such that she couldn’t be out there doing her thing. I thought it was really interesting that she made that comment. In talking about unpopular forms of expression, drag queens may be one of the top ones. I thought it felt timely to look back at that time period and relate it to the future. It’s also, coincidentally, the 100th anniversary of Futurism. I swear I didn’t know that when I started doing the work.
What led you to this fascination? I was sent a book on the history of absinthe and artists. People always talk about the hallucinogenic properties of absinthe, and it’s really that Gauguin and many other artists just drank so much of it. I learned about Alfred Jarry who is an Absurdist playwright who wrote the Ubu Roi. One of the paintings is based on the Absurdist play by the same title, which was the first absurdist play in documented history. That led me into the whole realm of Absurdist Theater and weird accents, and that led to Futurism and early Dadaist performances. I overlooked so much of this work myself, because the Dadaists and Surrealists were so popularized through high school and art school in the same way that college kid posters rape Gustave Klimt. I found out, to my detriment, that it was important for a reason. Just because it can be a little tacky, doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked.
I also wanted to reinvestigate the painting elements of these periods. One of the paintings here is based on a Russian Futurist play called, Mystery Bouf. In the play, based on turn-of-the-century Russian politics, the whole world gets flooded, except for Antarctica, and only seven people from the Bourgeoisie class and seven people from the working class survive. They all go to Antarctica to battle it out for supremacy and, of course, the Bourgeoisie loses. The working class builds this monument dedicated to Futurism and the new ruling class. I painted the scene in Antarctica of them building the future temple, or the Kingdom of Heaven, as they called it. I like the reactions people have to political struggles and how they dealt with this on an Absurdist level. I think that’s something that’s lacking on a contemporary level, and it goes back to RuPaul, I think she is an Absurdist protester.
Hernan Bas: The Dance of the Machine Gun and other forms of unpopular expression,” Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY. Through July 10. Note: I tried to stop in on Sunday and the gallery was closed.
Hernan Bas: Works from the Rubell Family Collection,” Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. Through May 24.
Young Man on the Half Shell Bespeaks Nostalgic Longing (Ken Johnson, NYTimes)
Hernan Bas Fails to Impress (Paddy Johnson, L Magazine)