The New Museum of Contemporary Art will present the first comprehensive survey of the work of artist Brian Jungen in an exhibition of thirty-five sculptures, drawings and installations. Brian Jungen is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Daina Augaitis, Chief Curator, Vancouver Art Gallery. The New Museum presentation of Brian Jungen is organized by Curator Trevor Smith and will be on view from September 29 ˆ December 31, 2005.
Brian Jungen (b. 1970) was raised in Fort St. John, a remote logging town in the interior of northern British Columbia, by Aboriginal and Swiss parents. In his early twenties, Jungen moved to Vancouver to study art, and has since exhibited worldwide. Jungen transforms familiar objects and materials associated with food, clothing, furniture and shelter into artworks of explicit social commentary that engage the viewer viscerally and explore the tensions between indigenous and global cultures today.
Jungen is best known for his Prototypes for New Understanding (1998-2005), a series of masks in which deconstructed Nike Air Jordan sneakers are reassembled to resemble Northwest Coast Aboriginal artifacts. Jungen‚s gesture of cutting up one of the most sought-after consumer items of the late 20th century is a dramatic one. By reassembling the pieces of sneaker into Aboriginal masks, Jungen comments on how indigenous culture is commercialized and consumed. Jungen also demonstrates how these objects have more in common than just their trade value. The classic color combination of black, red and white as seen in the Air Jordans is prevalent in many Northwest Coast native motifs. Jungen‚s Prototypes question cultural authenticity and authority while simultaneously comparing the handmade and the mass-produced.
The pervasive references to Michael Jordan in Jungen's work make visible Jungen‚s own obsession with the basketball superstar, and reminds the viewer how persuasive marketing techniques can contribute to the fetishization of goods for sale. In addition to the Air Jordans used in the Prototypes for New Understanding, he creates a permanent monument to Jordan by fabricating metal facsimiled Nike shoeboxes emblazoned with Jordan‚s face in Michael (2003). He also uses deconstructed Air Jordan shoeboxes for Little Habitat I (2003) and Little Habitat II (2003), miniature geodesic domes created from the detritus of brand identification.
Jungen brings the use of mass-produced items in his work to a much larger scale in three works on view at the New Museum: Shapeshifter (2000), Cetology (2002) and Vienna (2003). These monumental works run between 21 feet and 42 feet in length and are suspended in space, much as one might see a whale skeleton displayed in a natural history museum. Jungen‚s skill in manipulating viewer expectations by adding elements of surprise to his work is no more evident than in these precise replications of skeletal forms, which on close inspection the viewer realizes are made from garden-variety plastic chairs. The use of such banal objects in a work demonstrating such precise craftsmanship is a direct commentary on the tensions that exist between the rarefied museum space and the retail world. That the chairs, and hence the skeletons, are derived from petro-chemical products also reminds the viewer of the unfortunate effects that cheap, mass-produced products often have on the environment, and the role that humans play in that relationship.
Isolated Depiction of the Passage of Time (2001) simultaneously cites First Nations heritage and social realities. Jungen deploys minimalist strategies to reference the disproportionate number of Aboriginal men incarcerated in Canadian penal institutions. Stacks of plastic food trays rest on a wooden platform and the glow of an unseen television screen rises up from the center. The color and the number of trays stacked in the work are specific to the prisoners at Kingston Penitentiary, Canada‚s largest prison - each tray represents an individual, and each color corresponds to the sentence in years that that prisoner received. Jungen engages with the history of minimalist art again in Michael, where the stacked metal shoeboxes blatantly reference the work of artists such as Donald Judd and Carl Andre, though unlike these minimalist artists, Jungen deliberately infuses the work with social commentary, in this instance referencing retail display.
Brian Jungen's emphasis on craft and creation, his engagement with 20th century art history, and his exploration of the tensions between indigenous and global cultures in our contemporary world, have made him one of the most influential young artists working in Vancouver today. The exhibition Brian Jungen will be on view at the Vancouver Art Gallery from January 28 - April 30, 2006, and at the Musée d‚art Contemporain de Montréal from May 25 - September 4, 2006.
A catalogue accompanying the exhibition features essays by Daina Augaitis and Trevor Smith; Mexican curator and critic Cuauhtémoc Medina; Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Wattis Institute of Contemporary Arts; and Kitty Scott, Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada. The catalogue also features a conversation between Jungen and British artist Simon Starling, recently nominated for the 2005 Turner Prize. Designed by graphic artist Michael Worthington, Brian Jungen is a fitting celebration of one of Canada's most daring new artists.