For the young New York artist Nate Lowman, art is just a game. The first work encountered on entering Maccarone Gallery was No Title, which consists of two low wood backstops facing each other about 20 feet apart, each fronted by a piece of rebar stuck in the floor, resembling a setup for a game of horseshoes. Speaking of games, look at the "press release," which reproduces a filled-in Mad Lib. (One of the plural nouns supplied: boobs.)
The exhibition "Trash Landing," which spanned both Maccarone and Gavin Brown's enterprise and included works from the last two years, consisted mostly of large paintings, some 10 feet to a side. The canvases are deceptive; a gallery staffer pointed out that they're often mistaken for silkscreens, but in fact Lowman painted his found images in alkyd or oil on canvas. Many recall records from a dusty archive, especially under the dark-hued fluorescent lights installed on the ceilings in parts of the show, which brought out a spotty top layer of black. Lowman seems to take nihilistic pleasure in images of disaster-an Icelandic volcano, a Brazilian flood. Combining these paintings in one gallery along with a canvas of the Statue of Liberty, as Lowman did here, conveys the none-too-subtle message that the American dream too is a disaster.
Other works aim to comment on celebrity obsession-for example, at Brown, a large canvas depicting Jane Fonda and Joan Rivers, and others showing movie stars visiting the military. But the point of his commentary is elusive. In an Art in America website interview, Lowman explained his motivation for a portrait of Oliver North from a 2004 show: "I wanted to be like: Remember him?" It's a sentiment perhaps worthy of a Facebook post.
A large room at Brown was filled with dozens of nearly identical simplified knockoffs of a de Kooning "Woman" painting, "boobs" cartoonishly emphasized. Inserted among them is a painting of a pinup of a naked woman in sunglasses, as though Lowman were emphasizing the lowest level of meaning in the de Kooning works, which surely referenced pinups but had a lot more to do with great painting.
Most troubling were parts of Four Seasons, a room-size mixed-medium installation containing a welter of paintings and printed matter. Among the latter, there was a painted image of a man holding a board decorated with a Star of David, a swastika and a peace sign, perhaps suggesting that images are meaningless. And Lowman is as good as his word. Near one corner, facing each other across two adjoining walls, were a painting of a snowman sporting a sign reading "I'll be dead soon" and a canvas of a body falling from the Twin Towers. If you truly think art is a joke and images have no meaning, fine. But for anyone who believes that extremely poor taste is a valid concept, a combination like this exemplifies it perfectly.
Photo: Nate Lowman: Untitled (Survivor Series), 2011, diptych, alkyd on canvas and inkjet print on canvas,
42 by 111 1/2 inches overall; at Gavin Brown.