Lari Pittman Has Flying Carpets for a Violent Nation

Lari Pittman, Flying Carpet with Magic Mirrors for a Distorted Nation, 2013. Museum of Modern Art
The Hammer's "Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence" culminates with a room of three mural-scaled paintings from the Flying Carpets series, shown with comparably monumental artist's books. Recognized as pivotal since their creation in 2013, the Flying Carpet paintings seem shockingly topical, with an American president gloating over an enemy warlord's death. As the Hammer exhibition makes clear, one of Pittman's career-long themes is the culture of violence—that no less than queer identity and retinal overload.

The Flying Carpets draw on the art history of Persian carpets and Disney Aladdin cultural appropriation. (To mainstream Islam, 1001 Nights was as disreputably underground as Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite.) Pittman mines equally subversive territory. Carpet is also a bombing pattern.

Each Carpet painting has a border and a center with figurative medallions. In Flying Carpet with Magic Mirror for a Distorted Nation the portraits evoke those of Hermenegildo Bustos, a cult-favorite painter of 19th-century Mexico.
Hermenegildo Bustos, Self-Portrait, 1901
Hermenegildo Bustos, Still Life with Fruit (with Scorpion and Frog), 1874
Bustos was no less disruptive in a famous still-life of fruits arrayed parallel to the picture plane (anticipating Carleton Watkins' Peaches by 15 years). Pittman's Flying Carpet with Petri Dishes for a Disturbed Nation presents the ultimate super flat still-life, agar-filled plates of microbes that look like live ammo.  Smaller bubbles show firearm silhouettes, flat as TSA scans of a psychopath's carry-on.
Lari Pittman, Flying Carpet with Petri Dishes for a Disturbed Nation, 2013. Marciano Art Foundation
Lari Pittman, Flying Carpet With Waning Moon Over a Violent Nation, 2013. Marciano Art Foundation
In Flying Carpet with a Waning Moon Over a Violent Nation the medallions/Petri dishes are askew and have crosshairs. They contain porthole views of the waning moon (Bustos did two paintings of celestial phenomena). But mainly it's a picture of black nooses and bullet holes rendered as black holes.

For decades, Pittman has been more original and important and serious than many contemporaries getting far more attention. The Hammer's exemplary show (and catalog) will help remedy that. Inexplicably, it's not traveling in the U.S. The only other announced venue is the Kistefos Museet in Jevnaker, Norway. Jevnaker is not a suburb of Oslo, and its population is 4302.


Anonymous said…
Pittman has a good balance between technical and aesthetic skill. He inserts interesting messages or meanings in his works too.

Lots of other contemporary artists tend to be weak in one or both. Or they emphasize the latter over the former. They're sort of the flip side of a Norman Rockwell. Or the opposite extreme of a Thomas Kincaide.

Contemporary orchestral music is the same way. A recent piece commissioned by the LA Philharmonic was so "I'm hip and avante-garde" that the piece ended up a jumble of mostly percussionist sounds and lacked anything memorable. The Emperor's New Clothes?

Maybe hum-able, figurative or recognizable is verboten in the world of the au courant, but, sheesh, folks, do you have to go off the other deep end?

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