9 September - 23 October 2004
Gary Simmons' exhibition Criminal Slang includes paintings, sculpture, and drawings that take the language and symbols of gang and prison culture as their subjects. Simmons mines this insider's material for attitude, humor, and style to explore his personal relationship with the difficult social and racial issues of this subculture.
The core of the exhibition is the paintings that include gang insignias, primarily the playing card spade, and the colorful, codified language for drugs, sex and relationships painted on backgrounds of color or the black and white of the chalkboards. Simmons' performative, expressionistic gesture of swiping the wet paint of words and symbols across the canvas is an aggressively controlled disruption of the near perfection of the lettering and exquisitely painted backgrounds. The smeared paint produces the appearance of motion, partially obscures the words, references the speed this language is codified, and addresses the illusive meaning of the brutality of its environment. The subject itself, combined with the tradition of painting, invokes consideration of racial realities, social history, and psychological fantasy.
The two sculptures in the exhibition each include a different stark-white fiberglass version of a 70s boom box. In Ebonics the boom box sits on a jail yard table playing a track of the song "Ebonics" (a seminal rap song by Big L), backing the words of a de Saussure lecture on semiotics read by Ellen Ross, mixed by Deejay Rob Swift, once a member of The X-cutioners.
Gary Simmons lives in New York City. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts and received an MFA from Cal Arts in Los Angeles. A survey exhibition, organized by the MCA in Chicago and The Studio Museum of Harlem also traveled to Site Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is also the location where Simmons executed Ghost House, a series of drawing of dream-like images on the walls of an abandoned ranch house on Ruby Ranch. One-person exhibitions have been at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C., the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles, St. Louis Art Museum and the Kunsthaus Zurich. In 2000, he produced a web project titled Wake for the DIA Center in New York.