The Other Side — Barry McGee Brings the Retro Flavour of the Bay Area to Hong Kong

View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco
View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco
View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco
View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco
View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung
© Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco
TOP
1415
48
0
 
23
Oct
23
Oct
CoBo Social Market News Reports

For his first show with Perrotin in the gallery’s Hong Kong outpost, American artist Barry McGee goes all out to demonstrate the maturing aspects of his artistic practice, but not without some cheeky hints of playfulness seeping through from his days tagging San Francisco’s streets.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy Perrotin, Hong Kong

 

View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco

 

Walking into Perrotin’s expansive space in Hong Kong can be a bit overwhelming. Lit excessively by ceiling fluorescents, it always takes a few seconds looking around to really see, as the retinas adjust to the jarring brightness. Granted, this time, it may have served a helpful purpose for drawing absolute attention to Barry McGee’s site-specific wall installation, which he affectionately calls a ‘boil.’ It is peculiar, drawing you close with curiosity yet triggering a repulsive feeling in the pit of your stomach at the same time.

The San Francisco-based artist has been producing these ‘boils’ since 2007, each unique to its space in both presentation and content. The ‘boil’ references the bulging of the work—although the Hong Kong rendition feels also like how one might slouch and slump, a state we are so familiar with in this exhausting city. Composed of clusters of frames in various sizes, featuring an array of old, new and found content—from geometric abstract patterns to nostalgic old photographs, sketches, typesetting and more—it reads like a diary. Study it closely and you will find hints that draw parallels to every body of work in the exhibition.

“The Other Side” is the title of the show, his first with Perrotin, and one wonders if it makes a cheeky reference to the literal geographical distance from the Bay Area to Hong Kong, or the knowledge that the works are being exhibited in a blue-chip, white-walled gallery, a far cry from the grungy streets the artist’s works arose from. McGee, who first came to prominence in the late 1980s and early 90s for his graffiti tags—under his graffiti name Twist—has been straddling the two worlds of graffiti and gallery art for more than two decades. Archival material presented in this current show gives an insight into this cross-section, and perhaps hints at just a faint trace of resistance, which is not an unexpected gesture.

 

View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco

 

Inside the glass cabinets of what at first appears to be archival zines, photographs and sketches, soon reveals itself. McGee has playfully snuck in pieces he has created specifically for Hong Kong. These interventions, if I may call it so, continue throughout the exhibition. To one wall, a shabby old piece of wood bearing a motif of cherries and a strawberry—trademarks of the wonderful fruit farms in the Bay Area—has the words “Hong Kong Contemporary Art Centre” painted below in retro-style typeset. The irony lies in the fact that the city has no such institution by this name. Like a bad joke, McGee has ripped the band-aid and exposed the wound; Hong Kong may be an epicenter of art fairs and outposts of major American and European galleries but it has long suffered a lack of well executed, local, contemporary art institutions.

 

View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco

 

The interventions continue. Behind the wall housing the ‘boil’ is Perrotin’s glass cabinet and drawers, usually holding books and display items associated with its exhibitions. McGee has tagged this wall in silver spray paint with a sideview of a man’s face—bearing some odd resemblance to his own—and one of his commonly used acronyms, DFW, which stands for ‘Down For Whatever.’ It was fresh I’m told, an act that took place just 30 minutes before I arrived at the gallery. Below, we find more zines to one end, while the other cabinet is proudly displaying a selection of paper napkin sketches of people, motorbikes and cars by Papa McGee. The artist’s late father was an Irish-American who worked in a motor shop repairing and customizing cars. In these sketches, you can see perhaps where McGee gets his talent for drawing.

The anarchic tactics adopted by activist groups in the Bay Area, such as spray painting anti-government slogans on underpasses, fascinated McGee, a self-proclaimed misfit in his teen years. So it comes as no surprise he took to the streets with his talent for drawing, and expressed himself through graffiti. But McGee’s passion for art ran deeper and with encouragement from a teacher, he took classes at several community colleges before landing a scholarship for the San Francisco Art Institute. It was here he immersed himself into learning about the world of fine art. He became synonymous with the Mission artists, who eschewed the consumerism of the dot-com-driven economy of the 1990s Bay Area. Gentrification leading to exponentially rising rents have pushed out many of the long standing immigrant and artist communities, making way for those with fatter cheque books, deeper pockets and the trendy tech boom.

 

View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung. © Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco

 

In a 2002 interview with Germano Celant, then senior curator of contemporary art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, McGee describes the urge like a proclamation of saying “I’ve got no other way to say that I exist.” He further explained it as such: “And whoever protests that a building belongs to them doesn’t understand that the idea of ownership has no significance at all to a thirteen-year-old who wants to express himself.” At a turbulent time like the present, as Hong Kong is thrown in the chaos of its fifth consecutive month of protests, coincidentally McGee’s works strike an intimate chord, and perhaps, presents another way to think about what is taking place on our own streets now.

Moving from room to room, McGee’s story begins to successively unfold. Sharing the main gallery with the boil installation hung McGee’s trademark large multi-panel geometric abstractions and sculptures that are akin to Brancusi’s The Endless Column, every piece polished and reflecting a confident artist who has put in the hours to mature his practice. In one glance, the tone of the exhibition is notable through the artist’s signature antiquated serif type font—an influence from his graffiti years and time working in a letterpress shop—and his adaptation of superflat geometric patterns using starkly contrasting colours.

 

View of Barry McGee’s solo exhibition “The Other Side” at Perrotin Hong Kong, 2019 Photo: Ringo Cheung
© Barry McGee; Courtesy of the artist, Perrotin, and Ratio 3, San Francisco

 

In the smaller galleries to each side, the Barry McGee who surfs almost everyday, who collects discarded objects from the streets, and who first became an artist through unsanctioned street graffiti, shines through. An installation of canvas depicting various acronyms and McGee’s artistic pseudonyms—including Lydia Fong and Ray Fong, among others—are painted in his characteristic type font. Surfboards adorned with his geometric patterns sit on shelves, while analog televisions showing various tags interspersed with the same geometric patterns brings nostalgia of another time. Ceramic plates painted by the artist hang on one wall while collected half-pint liquor bottles bearing McGee’s signature painted faces are mounted on another wall. These faces reference the many homeless people living in the Bay Area. A little animatronic spotted secretly painting the gallery wall silver—a reoccurring gesture in many of McGee’s shows—acts like a mild protest action from the high-end polish of the main gallery works.

The exhibition is nothing short of a mini-retrospective. The gallery’s intentions were to introduce the artist to Hong Kong and to its client. It certainly achieves this objective. On the other hand, the exhibition, with its vast number of works—enough for a medium-size museum space—displayed under such harsh lighting conditions, also created a mismatch of organized chaos and overload of visual stimulation. “The Other Side” expresses the wide breadth of Barry McGee’s artistic practice, and if inspected closely enough, many hints to the artist’s personal interests, life and the influences that have been part of the maturation of his art. I only wish there was a little less exhibited, so we can more easily appreciate each body of work individually.

 

Barry McGee: The Other Side
10 October – 9 November, 2019
Perrotin, Hong Kong

 

 

About the artist:
Born in San Francisco, California in 1966, Barry McGee received his BFA in painting and printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at museums and institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara, CA; Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA; Institute of Contemporary Art,, Boston, MA; and Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan. McGee’s works are included in public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA; and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA.

 

 


 

Denise Tsui is currently the Editor for CoBo Social. A Hong Kong-born Aussie with an addiction to coffee, her research interests are primarily in the study of exhibition models and curatorial practices and art from the Southeast Asia Region. Previously she was an editor for ArtAsiaPacific and curator for a private collection of Australian and New Zealand art. A condensed version of her postgraduate curatorial thesis on contemporary Indonesian art was published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies in 2015.

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply