Opening reception: Thursday, July 11, 6 – 8 PM
David Zwirner is pleased to present Folk Devil, a group
exhibition curated by Rodolphe von Hofmannsthal in
the gallery’s 525 and 533 West 19th Street spaces in New
York. It borrows its title from sociologist Stanley Cohen’s
1972 study Folk Devils and Moral Panics, which looked at
modern society’s deep-rooted fear of subcultures and the
morally aberrant. More specifically, “folk devil” was Cohen’s
description of the British media’s hostile reaction towards
youth groups who clashed on the beaches of British seaside
towns on summer bank holidays in the early 1960s.
Bringing together a diverse group of artists, Folk Devil
presents a comment on the tendency to create artificial
connections between individuals with different backgrounds
and no inherent commonality. It also contains a self-referential
statement on the idea of “free rides,” a term used in Cohen’s
essay to denote preventative actions by the police, who would pick up random groups of youths in the seaside
towns and drive them to locations too far for them to return.
The use of disparate fragments and found objects characterizes several of the works on view. Spartacus
Chetwynd’s life-size painted fabric and latex puppets line up against the wall like belligerent guards—fearsome
but also lonely and vulnerable—while Mike Nelson’s helmet atop a thin wooden stick resembles a primitive doll,
with bones at the feet inspiring caution as well as empathy. The exaggerated proportions of Brian Griffiths’s bear
head, sown from canvas and installed like a tent with ropes and poles, project isolation and dislocation rather
than power and strength. Viewed together, these works resemble an army of abject creatures, handmade rejects
whose original purpose remains elusive.
Other sculptural works in the show reinforce a sense of uncertainty. Lynn Chadwick’s works, characterized by
acute angles and spiky twisted forms, can be seen to reflect the anxieties and fears of post-war Britain. In the
words of art historian Herbert Read, they present “images of flight, or ragged claws ‘scuttling across the floors of
silent seas,’ of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, [and] the geometry of fear.” The do-it-yourself aesthetics of Jason
Rhoades’s assemblage of motorized scooter, steer horns, and buckets, buoyantly titled The Future is Filled with
Opportunities, poorly masks an obsessiveness with clutter and an irrational logic that feels ironic and impotent.
Likewise, Franz West’s papier-mâché form on a chain metal stand resembles a cut-off body part, bright and
colorful, but disintegrated and decomposing.
Paintings on view also convey loneliness. Marlene Dumas’s The White Disease presents a pale and despondent
individual branded by an ambiguous disorder, while Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s portrayals of solitary young girls
facing away from the viewer suggest seclusion and mystery. Eschewing figuration, and including dirt on par with
oil, Oscar Murillo’s canvases imply action, performance, and chaos, but are in fact methodically composed and
tied to a notion of community stemming from the artist’s cross-cultural ties to London and Colombia. Eddie
Peake’s bold, spray-painted slogans evolve through his performances that often incorporate dance and music,
and use British slang to investigate notions of culture and sexuality. Sophie von Hellermann’s Fighting on the
Beach provides perhaps the closest allusion to Cohen’s treatise: based in Margate in the south of England, the
seaside location of a violent clash between mods and rockers, von Hellermann presents an effervescent tableau
of faces and bodies, at once secular and timeless.
The exhibition is curated by Associate Director Rodolphe von Hofmannsthal.
Artists included in the show: Lynn Chadwick, Spartacus Chetwynd, Marlene Dumas, Nikolas Gambaroff, Brian
Griffiths, Roger Hiorns, Ryan McGinley, Oscar Murillo, Mike Nelson, Eddie Peake, Jason Rhoades, Steven Shearer,
Oscar Tuazon, Sophie von Hellermann, Franz West, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
Thanks to The Brant Foundation, The Estate of Lynn Chadwick, and The Mario Testino Collection.
For all press inquiries, please contact
Kim Donica at David Zwirner 212-727-2070 [email protected]