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"Javier Piñón: Collage Art" by Nikolai Soudek

Javier Piñón uses clippings from old magazines and books to create worlds that are both fantastic and familiar, epic yet incredibly intimate. His elaborate, surprisingly cohesive collages retain the charm and allure of the faded Americana of which they are comprised, while at the same time imbuing it with new meaning and propelling its characters into the larger framework of both ancient and modern-day mythologies.


"Javier Piñón" by David Coggins

Javier Piñón’s collages of cowboys in desert settings address the appeal of the Western frontier and its underlying myth of America’s power. Piñón, who was raised in Texas and now works in New York, uses images from mid-century road-trip magazines that have begun to lose their color. His meticulously crafted collages are cautionary tales about our tendency, both as individuals and as a country, to cast our struggles as heroic conflicts.

So seamlessly made that they seem to arrive fully formed, like found photographs, the collages are often mounted on yellowed handmade paper, creating a warm setting as seductive as a John Ford Western. Piñón’s earlier works, which featured cowboys swinging on chandeliers and perched on towers of chairs, were more boldly theatrical. Here, richly described settings frame surreal dramas of faded grandeur. Most of the works are intimate in scale—each piece is about the size of an open book--but one of the best in the exhibition was the largest. Don Quixote’s #4 (all works 2007), which is 26 by 48 inches, depicts a cowboy, an incongruous lance in hand, charging on his horse across a desert landscape that is dotted with red rock formations and metal windmills. There’s a balance between the timeless absurdity of Don Quixote’s quest and the more topical –and more tragic—allusions to the misadventures of politicians, self-styled as cowboys.

Many of these collages incorporate Christian iconography or Classical myth. In St. Sebastian, a stoic young cowboy is bound to a tree full of crows, seemingly indifferent to the arrows stuck in him, while in Theseus and the Minotaur a cowboy in a rodeolike stadium wrestles a bull-headed figure—needless violence marked with unexpected comedy. Odysseus presents a cowboy perched perilously on top of a raft made of a heap of Chippendale chairs. Waves crash around him and wind fills the sail as he’s blown out to sea. The image is at once bizarre—the cowboy’s legs fly in the air as if he were riding a bull—and also surprisingly poignant, a cross between Richard Prince’s Marlboro Men and Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. In a scene of epic absurdity, our hero is adrift.


"Special Focus: Reviews Marathon, New York" by Jonathan T.D. Neil

Recently ArtReview has been staring at its growing pile of press releases and wondering: "Is it possible to see (almost) everything?" So this month it forced four NYC reviewers to each review 26 show in the space of a week.

The cowboy thematic, which Kozul uses to good effect... is a popular one, though its iconic status has been sullied by the political climate in the US, the duelling sides of which always seem to be looking for ways to out-America one another. And viewed from this perspective, it cecomes eaiser to read the cynicism of Kozul's gesture.

JAVIER PINON, in contrast, seems to have managed to keep that icon from devolving into a punchline or a photo-op, but that is because Piñón has never thought of the character of the cowboy strictly within the vernacular of the American West. The artist's most recent series of collage pieces at ZieherSmith reimagines the cowboy as any kind of mythic hero, from Perseue to Don Quixote. The latter serves as the titled character of the show, and Piñón's depictions of the imaginary knight preparing to do battle with century-old windmills look like illusttrations out of a new fantasy bestseller that has yet to be written.


By Meghan Dailey

Javier Piñón grew up in Texas, which may partially account for the cowboy theme in his works. But he's tapping into an iconography that cuts across regional lines. In Piñón's latest collage-like paintings, the cowboy goes head to head in the boxing ring with another mythic masculine character, the Minotaur. Each painting has a block-lettered taunt as a backdrop (i.e., "Stop crying you fucking baby"): These fights are as much about psychological as physical domination. Executed on metal panels and canvas mail bags, Piñón's paintings are vigorous yet poetic reflections on the denial of vulnerability, and the undercurrent of violence, that are inextricable from notions of masculinity.

A dreamier kind of energy surges through Charles Thomas's dense, large-scale paintings of the poorest areas of cities like Chiapas, Mexico and Belen, Peru. The artist visits each of these locales and makes work based on photographs and memories. On canvas, a favela in Rio becomes a gridlike expanse of interlocking shanties, brightly colored but dingy (Favela Rochina, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2002). The stylized composition evokes the seemingly endless expanse of the actual place while also suggesting Thomas's imaginative memory of it. Other works focus on atmospherics: Salvador Bahia, Brazil, 2002, is a close-up view of ocean swirling around a rock. The froth is rendered in small rectangles, giving a form to flowing water that's as mutable as memory itself.

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