Do you like art that grapples with how artificial our culture has become? Even better– would you like to see the art crowd in Bushwick confronted with a portrayal of American hipster contradiction? If so, you’re in luck. Because this September, Joe Nanashe, a conceptual artist who sorta fits that bill himself as an Ohio-born transplant now based in New York, is debuting his solo show American Vanitas at Bushwick’s Victori + Mo gallery this September.
Nanashe, who moved to the city nine years ago, has been fascinated with themes of the body, decay, and its relation to contemporary American culture for a while now, and uses his work to explore, with a certain sense of irony, how these elements all come together. “My work has dealt with issues of American pop culture filtered through the issue of time,” he explained. Nanashe is particularly interested in exploring food in American culture, which is often pervaded by artificiality and identity-anxiety, and becomes a way of looking at the larger societal disconnect.
Citing the influence of 17th-century Dutch still life paintings, products of what’s known as The Golden Age of Dutch artwork, many of Nanashe’s pieces for American Vanitas depict food as “a metaphor for time and death.” There’s “Preserved American,” in which Nanashe uses an image of cellophane-wrapped American cheese to exemplify how American marketing is often vastly different from food in its more natural state.
“The idea of processed American cheese is so removed from food that it exists outside of time,” he explained. “We’re so removed from the reality of everything, we carry out bombings with drones, we eat processed cheese.”
Another featured work by Nanashe, “Memorial (Hart Crane)” depicts a bizarre familial connection to Lifesaver candy. Hart Crane, a “famous poet” relative, also happened to be the son of the man who invented Lifesavers. The poet “ended up committing suicide by jumping off a steamer ship.” For Nanashe, the irony of this was too compelling to not incorporate in his work.
In fact, most of Nanashe’s work seems to be about simultaneously staving off the impending despair of existence while, at the same time, drawing attention to it. Some of his pieces– like his self-portrait with a banana-cream pie and a photograph of a lonely, rotting banana peel– have an underlying Freudian context to them that’s equal parts funny and deflating, as they touch on themes of masculinity and the changing role of men in modern society.
Nanashe’s also concerned with political hysteria– in his view, the American identity crisis has come to the forefront in the past 15 years of the country’s political shift, and has peaked during this current election cycle. He cites the Bush era, spent watching the Iraq war on television, as another influence in his work. “It was so absurd and so fascinating to watch,” he said, likening the removed experience of watching a real war live on TV to watching a film or a television show. “And of course it’s only getting worse,” he added. “We’re definitely feeling quite insane from all of it. I think [the art] is a perfect metaphor for the madness of America.”
“American Vanitas” opens at Victori + Mo on Friday September 9 (6 pm to 9 pm) and is on view through October 16.