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A playfulness is in the air at Jan Weenix, artist Patrick Michael Ballard’s home-cum-gallery nestled within the scenic hills of Altadena. A mix of indoor and outdoor spaces, Jan Weenix currently plays host to Sylvan Plug, a solo exhibition of new artworks by David Muenzer. Consisting of oil on linen paintings, colored pencil drawings, and sculpture, Muenzer’s work has a gentleness—enhanced by the intimacy inherent in home spaces—that comes from the artist’s light, considered touch. This gentleness comes in handy as Muenzer deconstructs the character trait that, arguably, most defines the millennial generation: self-obsession.
In Rome Window (after Tischbein) (2019), one of several drawings done in red colored pencil, Muenzer mimics Goethe at the window of his appartement by the Corso in Rome, a 1787 drawing by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein. However, in a move the artist makes across the exhibition, Muenzer substitutes the figure’s head, in this case Goethe’s, for a round, globe-like one, implying that the figures solipsistically believe that reality begins and ends within themselves. Pushing this point further, Muenzer chooses to use only lines of latitude and longitude on his globes rather than a topographical map. This highlights the increased sense of distance between fantasy and reality that romanticism—a philosophical ancestor to contemporary narcissism—represents.
In another drawing modeled after the language of contemporary selfies, the globe-headed subject enters again, this time wearing a promotional t-shirt for the 1999 film Cruel Intentions. The title of the drawing is telling:One taught me love, one taught me patience, and one taught me pain (2019) are lyrics taken from the Ariana Grande song “Thank You, Next” in which Grande celebrates how easily she replaces her lovers, eventually winding up with only herself. Muenzer’s figures are painted with their eyes looking slightly askew—similar to when a subject looks at their own depiction in their phone screen rather than directly into the camera—emphasizing the divorce from connection and intimacy narcissism breeds.
As Muenzer’s critique of contemporary individualism sharpens, certain pieces betray a compassionate, even hopeful outlook underneath Muenzer’s critique of self-absorption. In Hearth (Resolutions) (2019), one of two sculptures on display, Muenzer creates a fireplace screen by transposing a chart that details various ways to resolve interpersonal conflicts onto semi-transparent porous nylon. While fairly tongue-in-cheek (one suggestion on the chart is “Let it goooo, let it gooo”), the piece is positioned around a literal hearth, traditionally a communal point in a family home, which makes it feel strangely sincere. It is as if Muenzer is half-jokingly asking “can’t we all just try to get along?” and hinting that the problem we most need to “let go” of is our obsession with ourselves.
David Muenzer: Sylvan Plug runs from December 14, 2019–February 17, 2020 at Jan Weenix (600 N. Altadena Dr., Pasadena, CA 91107).