Review: From the Vapor of Gasoline, White Cube Mason’s Yard ‘Subverting the American Dream’


A smart piece of programming, this one, for From the Vapor of Gasoline runs very much in line with the big shows on post-war American art that are front and centre in town at the moment. Much like Soul of a Nation and Basquiat, this show focuses on the other side of the American Dream – that of marginalised communities, civil unrest, economic hardship, and the decline of wealth and confidence in the States from the 1970s onwards.

And White Cube has certainly pulled in some big names – there’s a piece from Basquiat himself, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Nauman, Robert Gober, and David Hammons (who’s also on display in Soul of a Nation). Plus, we’ve also some women as well, with Cady Noland and Jenny Holzer.

The show as a whole certainly works well. Larry Clark’s collection of explicit black and white photography, with its drug use, sex workers, gun shot wounds and domestic abuse, serves to set the scene of a country on its knees, and with a lot of destruction and damage behind the fostered image of the ‘greatest nation on earth.’

And that idea of national symbols and images being mocked and subverted is one that carries on through a number of works here, from David Hammons, a black man, wrapping himself in the Stars and Stripes, to Cady Noland taking the flag and placing it over a zimmer frame – as much a commentary on the injured soldiers returning from illegal wars overseas as it is on the virility and youth of the United States.

Add to that Mapplethorpe’s illuminated Dollar Bill, 1987, that compels us to face up to the transparency of symbols we place trust and faith in, and Basquiat’s 2 for a dollar, 1983, of two adverts for 59 cents with even this being pushed down further to shift product (as the title suggests) displays the disintegration of the magnificent American dollar.

It’s all very powerful and hangs well together, but what really gives the show its bite is the palpable anger in Christopher Wool’s Untitled (Riot), 1989-90, the bullet hole through the forehead in Cady Noland’s Cowboy Bullethead Movie Star, 1990, and Jenny Holzer’s Someone wants to cut a hole in you…, 1981, which makes explicit how these artists want us to react to the state of the nation.

Perhaps, it seems, we are circling back into this state off play onece agin.

White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, to October 21, 2017
Admission free.
Installation images by me.

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