The Cult of Personality is the inaugural show of the Soho space Carriage Trade, and as such embodies the gallery’s mission to celebrate and contextualize socially engaging work of established and lesser-known artists, while presenting a timely reflection on the state of our culture.
This exhibition explores the manner in which public figures are disproportionately deified by mass media. It links the methods the media employs in order to imbue an individual with a sense of authority and reliability, namely by branding them as celebrities. Images of George Washington, Richard Nixon, and Mao, are presented alongside those of Michael Jackson, John Wayne, and Kurt Cobain, to demonstrate that despite their highly distinct functions—the public perceives them similarly. Politicians and artists are thus interchangeable in our culture, as they are propelled to a precarious position of power regardless of their role in society.
The participating artists reflect the paradox in the formation of these “identity cults,” yet also indulge in the habit themselves, as in the work of Vitaly Komar, who presents his collection of George Washington memorabilia. Others display a sense of nostalgia, as observed in Yasser Aggour’s simple portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru, John Wayne, Mao, Che Guevara, and Yasser Arafat. The strongest work in the exhibition is an archive project by Muntadas and Reese, who amassed all the presidential campaign TV advertisements from 1952 to 2004. The irony of these ads reveals itself in hindsight, as we can now barely distinguish some of the candidates who were presented at the time as ready-made icons, while others had risen to stardom only to be stripped of their power by their own doing.
(*Images, from top to bottom: Felix, The Cult of Personality, February 28 - March 30, 2008; Carriage Trade, Kurt Cobain circa 1994, paint on black velvet, 23 1/2 x 17 in, Courtesy of Ken Freedman and Carriage Trade, New York. Paul McCarthy, The Cult of Personality, February 28 - March 30, 2008; Carriage Trade, Untitled (Michael Jackson), 1998, mixed media on paper, 18 x 23 in, Courtesy of Dan Graham and Carriage Trade, New York. Vitaly Komar, The Cult of Personality, February 28 - March 30, 2008; Carriage Trade, Vitaly Komar Collection, 1987-97, mixed media, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist and Carriage Trade, New York. Muntadas & Reese, The Cult of Personality, February 28 - March 30, 2008; Carriage Trade, Political Advertisement VI, 2004, B&W and color with sound, 75 min, Courtesy of the artist and Carriage Trade, New York.)