When I first encountered Carrie Mae Weems’s 2003 installation, Meat Market (Feast), the image that arose for me was of the little boy on his mother’s lap, eating a plastic snack, moving slowly – as a rhythm – around a block-like structure, which served as a linear representation of Weems’s visionary world. Of course, such was the obvious quality of Weems’s “essays” as performance art, which was only enhanced by her bold use of photography (of the Brooklyn street corners she had photographed, or of the faces of children in prison, the landscapes she had looked at). But for me, seeing meat, candy and electronic music splayed among interchangeable bits of discarded junk added a layer of visual and an ever-wider exploration of the meanings behind the various small gestures on display.
Meat Market (Feast) is an essential stop in the US representation of the annual Armory Show, an exciting display of contemporary art. This year, Weems’s Meat Market found its way to the guest-curated Coffee Line, a group exhibition designed by dMOCA Los Angeles.
Meat Market in Coffee Line. Photograph: David Gamberg/Glitterati Gallery
Through its careful selection, Coffee Line takes a pause to really engage with the notions of identity and power in this moment. The artist Ryan Trecartin, an artist who, like Weems, has drawn comparisons to the Austrian photographer and activist Julian Schnabel, adds an arresting display of oil paintings on plywood, featuring portraits of young people who have died. It’s a timely and appropriate use of the immediate, inescapable cruelty that seemed to dominate our landscape in the weeks after the horrific and horrific school shootings in Orlando. An extraordinary series of photographs by the artist Louis Pilliod also opens Coffee Line. Pilliod’s camera captures The Sow who, concealed in a discarded shopping cart, is already killed before passing through the Gate of Life.
Other artists with “image projects” on display include Robert Mapplethorpe, whose original images are at dMOCA, and the painter Dennis Oppenheim whose work has appeared in shows at dMOCA and the Guggenheim.
Sign up for the New Review email
The works of Theodor Geisel, the American author of Dr Seuss, have also been selected to help define what is “rough” in art, and to add a new voice in the discourse. Geisel’s 1962 work The Cat in the Hat appears on the floor, a grotesque cartoon for which Geisel wasn’t well known. The use of a classic such as this one offers an interesting opportunity to interrogate the way that Geisel’s poplar Seuss works — so widely appreciated by the public — are defined within the context of our culture.
Mapplethorpe’s canvases evoke anxieties, anxieties in relation to sexuality, sex in the streets and the media, and the gender fluidity of that attitude, not to mention voyeurism and death.
Winston Churchill, who appears in works by Ulysses Kennedy, on the right in the film adaptation of The Return of the Native by Eric Rohmer. Photograph: United Artists
Apart from the grouping of Weems and Tintin, Coffee Line also includes Francis Upritchard, who develops a series of recreations of fables through new stories and imagery inspired by childhood play, in Portraits in Childhood (Barret) and Tiger Eats Fish (Barret). Another highlight is a film by the artist Ulysses Kennedy (Doris), in which the British prime minister Winston Churchill is presented as a sexually lecherous older man in contemporary contexts. The film (for which the actor, Richard Dormer, played Churchill) is by a different artist, but the idea for such imagery is interesting. This will soon be adapted into a feature film, presented by Focus Features and titled Churchill (Make My Day).
Coffee Line, which lasts until 5 July, is at The Armory Show, Seventh Avenue, New York.