Horton Gallery is pleased to announce it’s first solo exhibition of new works by Michael Phelan entitled My my, Hey hey.
In keeping with Phelan’s formal and conceptual concerns, My my, Hey hey. addresses the contemporary American landscape and the role language plays, explicit and implicit, within this contextual framework. Critically investigating how historically specific models and cultural traditions have been absorbed, co-opted, and repurposed to fit the needs of the popular landscape, Phelan engages the histories of abstraction, conceptual art, and popular culture. Employing both art historical and mass media references the work re-contextualizes/positions mundane & disparate icons of consumer culture with an eye towards both art history and the legacy of Middle America ‘life-styling’.
For the occasion of the exhibition, Phelan has produced four unique bodies of work – including ‘shaped canvas’ paintings, a grouping of wavelike powder-coated structural steel tubing sculptures, neon wall works, and postminimalist bronze sculptures. As well, Phelan has produced two unique editioned self-titled prints for the exhibition My my, Hey, hey. and Hey hey, My my.
The title itself recalls Neil Young’s ‘My My, Hey Hey (Into the Blue)’- the acoustic counterpart to Young’s ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ and bookends Neil Young’s 1979 album ‘Rust Never Sleeps’. Inspired by proto-New Wave group Devo, the rise of punk and what Young viewed as his own growing irrelevance, the song Hey Hey, My, My and the title phrase of the album, Rust Never Sleeps, sprang from Young’s encounters with Devo and in particular Mark Mothersbaugh. Similar to President Millard Fillmore’s adage: “It is better to wear out than to rust out.”, the lyrics from the song – “it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” became infamous after Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide note ended with the same line.
Phelan’s series of cast bronze bamboo poles – Rust Never Sleeps, 2014, lean against the gallery walls, positioned intermittently throughout the gallery. With a nod to Walter De Maria, the postminimalist works draw from the tradition of Orientalism – recalling the ‘decorative’ bamboo poles ubiquitous among such ‘life-stying’ import boutiques as Pier 1. Started as a single store in San Mateo, California in 1962, the original store catered to post-World War II hippy baby boomers looking for beanbag chairs, love beads and incense; later incorporating imitations of aspects of eastern cultures by way of the West. The title, suggested by Mark Mothersbaugh to Neil Young, was borrowed by Young from the slogan for Rust-Oleum paint – an aphorism describing Young’s musical self-renewal.
Phelan’s self-titled geometrical shaped canvas paintings – Bunny, Camel, Pussy, and so on, all 2014 – take the ‘Tangram’ as their starting point. Originating in China during the Song Dynasty and carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century, the dissection puzzle is one of the earliest psychological tests. Consisting of seven shapes called tans: two large triangles, one medium triangle, two small triangles, a square, and a parallelogram- the objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape using all seven pieces. Employing these problems, Phelan’s repositioning of the historical model presents both a formal and conceptual approach to the ready-made, at once transforming the everyday into the sublime.
Similarly, Phelan’s wavelike powder-coated structural steel tubing sculptures Untitled (Two-humps, Three-humps, and Four-humps), all 2014, share a like-minded conceptual framework. Repositioning utilitarian forms, Phelan evokes anatomical contours – subverting formal strategies while sexualizing the quotidian. The works titles – Two-humps, Three-humps, and Four-humps refer to those of a camel.
Lastly, Phelan’s neon work, A camel, a penguin, and a wiener walk into a bar…, 2014, repurposes Picasso’s ubiquitous ‘animal’ drawings with a eye (and ear) toward the contemporary landscape. Employing the trio, Phelan’s ensemble ‘constructs’ the classic bar joke. The basic syntax of this type of joke is “A man walks into a bar…- the initial perception is that a man is walking into a bar to have a drink. A second variant involves several men walking into the bar together, often with related professions, such as “a priest, a minister and a rabbi.” In effect, an amalgamation of the ‘bar joke’ and jokes involving priests, ministers and rabbis (or Buddhist monks, etc.). This form has become so well known that it is the subject of a joke about the popularity of the joke itself: “A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, ‘What is this, a joke?'”
Michael Phelan (b. Beaumont, TX) lives and works in New York City and Marfa, Texas. He is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. His work has been exhibited extensively throughout the US and Europe including Mary Boone, Andrew Kreps, Elizabeth Dee, D’Amelio Terras, Leo Koenig, Eleven Rivington, Horton Gallery John Connelly Presents, Daniel Reich, P.S. 1/MoMA, The Kitchen, and Artist’s Space, New York; Sculpture Center, L.I. City, NY; Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Kantor/ Feuer, QED Gallery, and Champion Fine Art, Los Angeles; Shane Campbell, Chicago, Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, TX; Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, TX; Kevin Bruk Gallery, Miami, FL; Nice & Fit Gallery, Berlin; Galerie Edward Mitterrand, Geneva and Mitterrand + Sanz | Contemporary Art, Zurich. Recent exhibitions include ‘California Dreamin’ curated by Fred Hoffman, Portugal Arte ’10, Lisbon; ‘The Morning After (aka RU-486)’ curated by Benjamin Godsill, 2nd Tbilisi Contemporary Art Exhibition, Capital of Georgia, Tbilisi; ‘Abstract America 2: New Paintings from the US’, Saatchi Gallery, London; ‘Sparking Dialogue’, curated by Senior Curator Jen Mergel, Linde Family Wing for the Contemporary Art Collection, Museum of Fine Art, Boston; ‘Blind Cut’ (catalogue), Marlborough Gallery, NY; ‘Watch Your Step’, FLAG Art Foundation, NY; and most recently ‘More Young Americans: An overview of the American Contemporary Art Scene’, curated by Marc-Olivier Wahler, from the collection of Susanne van Hagen, L’Enclos des Bernardins Hôtel de Miramion, Paris. Recent solo exhibitions include JGM Galerie, Paris and Horton Gallery, NY.
Michael Phelan’s work is included in prominent public and private collections throughout the US and Europe. His work has been featured in numerous publications including Artforum, Frieze, Modern Painters, Art in America, Flaunt Magazine, Art Lies | Contemporary Art Journal, Men’s Vogue, Vogue Italia, The New York Times, T Magazine, The Boston Globe, and The Huffington Post, among others.