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Hugh Brown
at Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, California
Recommendation by Dewitt Cheng

Continuing through October 30, 2010

If collage with its juxtaposition of disparate elements was the primary art strategy of the twentieth century, then its sly descendant, appropriation, may well succeed it in the twenty-first, judging by the promiscuous intermingling of sampled, recontextualized originals and copies in the FaceBook/YouTube age. Considering the level of technology available to even the average techno-shlub these days, it seems nothing less than bullheaded or heroic that Hugh Brown, a talented, award-winning graphic designer, should have decided to make parodies of famous artworks, all featuring his trademark object of desire, the chainsaw glamorized in countless guilty-pleasure splatter flicks, in the same media as the originals. "Allegedly" purports to reveal undiscovered originals by various masters of painting photography, and sculpture. It is testament to Brown's wit and talent that his humorous homages provoke delighted chuckles from art mavens and art-history classes alike.
John Baldessari, Diane Arbus, Harold Edgerton, Walker Evans, Lucio Fontana, Keith Haring, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, David Levinthal, Robert Mapplethorpe, Henri Matisse, Vik Muniz, Paul Outerbridge, Irving Penn, Jackson Pollock, Man Ray, Ed Ruscha, Hiroshi Sugimoto are some of the blue-chip artists getting celebrity-roasted here. Particularly funny are works that play the idea of appropriation self-referentially, like Brown's saw-enhanced version of Sherrie Levine's "After Walker Evans"; his parodies of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer; his Andres Serrano "Piss Saw"; and his version of Roy Lichtenstein's "Masterpiece" entitled, "Why, Roy, Darling," with Roy's girlfriend cooing, "This painting is a masterpiece!  It ... it transcends appropriation, becoming outright theft!" (The De Stijl chainsaw has been rebranded Steal.) Some of the pieces make satisfying artworks even once the punch lines have faded: Christo's "Wrapped Chainsaw," Joseph Cornell's "Untitled (Woodpecker Habitat)," Bruce Nauman's "Was/Saw," Méret Oppenheim's "La Tronconneuse en Fourrure," and Andy Warhol's "Diamond Dust Chainsaw and Sickle" all make the cut for this masked heavy breather.

Robert Koch Gallery

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