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In Jim Shaw’s installation at the Marciano Art Foundation (MAF), Steve Jobs, dressed as a doctor, shoves an iPhone through the skull of a captive bald man. A life-size, stand-alone, cut-out drawing, the bald man sits in a chair cringing while Jobs looks unfazed. “Maybe Jobs is not the anti-Christ literally,” says Jim Shaw in an interview published in the MAF’s debut catalogue, but Jobs “invented the iPhone, which is sort of the one eye of the Cyclops,” Shaw continues, free associating as liberally verbally as he does visually.
The artist’s installation, The Wig Museum, fills the cavernous downstairs galleries of the MAF—these galleries were the auditorium back when Freemasons made this newly-renovated, just-reopened building their temple. The Freemasons left behind epic painted backdrops, three of which Shaw incorporated into his exhibition; hanging near the center of his show is a Masonic hellscape in which naked male bodies glow against flames while larger-than-life Serpents hover around. Elevated near the back is a mural by Shaw of a ring of clouds, The Ascension of George Washington (2017). A Christ figure resembling our first president has a cross-shaped sword and floats mid-air, a massive vacuum descending from between his legs down towards the ground where it’s just sucked up two ghostly humans.
Nearly everything in Shaw’s installation dwarfs the viewer; wandering through is like being in a genuinely intriguing nightmare. Everyone makes an appearance: Jobs, Superman, God, Barbara Bush. No one seems to be in control.
Loss of control is Shaw’s interest, or so he says repeatedly in the catalogue. The show’s namesake, The Wig Museum, a funny little room underneath a lit marquee includes found and made wigs, and “represents the end of control…as it’s occurring now,” Shaw says. Wigs like those Washington used to wear symbolize a kind of authority that’s fading, he means.
But his installation exists inside of a former temple now owned by wealthy businessmen. And if the control of heroes, politicians and presidents has almost entirely given way to the vaguer influence of capital, then his installation occupies a control center, benefiting from this situation while virtuosically capturing its chaos.
Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum runs from May 25–September 17, 2017 at the Marciano Art Foundation (4357 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90010).