San Francisco

The Modern Monster

As a part of our ongoing partnership with Art Practical, today we bring you a review by Matt Sussman of the exhibition The Modern Monster at Queens Nail’s Gallery in San Francisco.

Valerie Hegarty. George Washington Melted 4, 2011; canvas, stretcher, paper, acrylic paint, and gel medium; 40 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York.

“What kind of monster are you?” is the chorus from a single by the ’90s pop-punk group Slant 6.1 The question accuses the listener of being something other than human. However, the singer-guitarist Christina Billotte’s flat delivery also invites the listener to self-identify as non-human: what kind of monster are you? Monstrousness, then, is a condition from which we recoil even as we uneasily recognize its latent potential within us. High points of terror in horror movies often coalesce around scenes in which characters are confronted with the realization that the monster is like them or is in fact one of them—a recurring moment of recognition frequently accompanied by graphic representations of bodily disintegration or somatic disorder.

The artists in The Modern Monster, a whip-smart yet wonderfully unpretentious group show at Queen’s Nails curated by Jeanne Gerrity, consider with both seriousness and humor the hovering existential threat posed by the monstrous. (Disclosure: Gerrity is a contributor to Art Practical.) Gerrity borrows her exhibition’s title from an essay by Lars Bang Larsen that offers a post-Marxist reading of the zombie—the monster with perhaps the most current pop-cultural cachet—as an ambiguous figure for capitalism’s perfected condition, in which subjects are alienated beyond death itself.2 Larsen’s zombie is the last gasp of monster-as-metaphor and the final turn of the screw that collapses both external and self-ascribed alienation onto one chaotic non-being. Although the works in The Modern Monster aren’t nearly as polemical as Larsen’s thesis, many of them opt for methods and materials that formalize the messy business of unbecoming that he traces over the course of his essay.

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