Gagosian Gallery unveils an extraordinary exhibition featuring a collection of sculptures and paintings by the late Ashley Bickerton (1959–2022), which includes his previously unseen “Blur” paintings. This retrospective, meticulously curated by Bickerton himself during a visit to New York in the spring of 2022, marks a significant moment in the gallery’s history. It not only serves as a career-spanning showcase but also represents the gallery’s first solo exhibition dedicated to Bickerton’s artistry, following Gagosian’s announcement of its representation of the artist in 2022. The exhibition, comprising over twenty-five remarkable works, is scheduled to open at Gagosian’s 522 West 21st Street location in New York on September 8, 2023.
I’m not interested in creating one single guillotine-edge of meaning. I’m interested in creating a system of swirling rapids and eddies of meaning that overlap to catch the spectator in between.—Ashley Bickerton
The Artistic Evolution of Ashley Bickerton
Initially associated with the Neo-conceptualist/Neo-Geo movements of late-1980s New York, Ashley Bickerton made his mark with abstracted constructions that delved into themes of consumerism, identity, and value. His early works exuded a sense of ironic detachment, reflecting the spirit of the times.
However, in a transformative move, Bickerton relocated to the Indonesian island of Bali in 1993. This shift prompted a deliberate pivot in his artistic expression, adopting an ironically “exotic” aesthetic characterized by ornate craftsmanship. This departure sharply contrasted with the conceptual abstraction of his earlier work.
In the last years of his life, Bickerton undertook a remarkable journey, bringing his diverse modes of artistic expression full circle. He synthesized these heterogeneous influences into a unified visual language that left an indelible mark on the art world. Notably, his approach and aesthetic have resonated with a wide array of artists across generations, including Matthew Barney, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Jordan Wolfson. This exhibition stands as an opportunity to celebrate Bickerton’s enduring legacy and profound influence.
The Enigmatic “Blur” Paintings
At the heart of this exhibition are Ashley Bickerton’s “Blur” paintings, a series characterized by figures and faces rendered in extreme soft focus. Inspired by a serendipitous encounter with a faded family photograph, each painting commences as a digital photograph. Bickerton then transforms it into a hazy tableau of colors punctuated by eyes represented as colored dots.
Produced during the artist’s final months, these paintings evoke memories of friends and moments from his life without sentimentality. The technique, involving sprayed acrylic paint and hyper-stylized color fields, harks back to Bickerton’s collaboration with Jack Goldstein. The vibrant palette employed in these works resonates with the artist’s earlier sculptural pieces. The “Blur” paintings suggest a gradual vanishing of their subjects, offering a poignant and contemplative dimension to Bickerton’s oeuvre.
Rediscovering Iconic Sculptures
Complementing the “Blur” paintings are reinterpretations of some of Bickerton’s iconic sculptures. “Tormented Self-Portrait: Susie at Arles (25 Years)” revisits one of his early self-portrait constructions, originally conceived a quarter-century ago. This minimalist-style box, emblazoned with Bickerton’s enigmatic signature “Susie,” draws inspiration from Van Gogh’s self-portraits, particularly those from Arles. However, Bickerton’s work ingeniously replaces conventional self-representation with an array of mass-produced options, sparking intriguing contemplation.
A Dive into Bickerton’s Love of the Ocean
Several prominent works in this exhibition underscore Ashley Bickerton’s profound connection to the ocean. Pieces like “Clear Shark” and “Double Manta (Clear)” belong to a series of sculptures crafted from polyurethane resin. They feature interpretations of traditional crafted artifacts and plastic bags filled with clear liquid, reminiscent of IV fluid. These creations interweave elements of the ocean with human artifacts, offering a unique perspective on the relationship between nature and industry.
Ashley Bickerton, born in Barbados in 1959 and passing away in Bali, Indonesia, in 2022, leaves behind a remarkable legacy. His works grace prestigious collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tate Britain, London. Bickerton’s artistry has been showcased in solo and group exhibitions, solidifying his position as a prominent figure in contemporary art.
The exhibition, slated to open on September 8, 2023, at Gagosian’s 522 West 21st Street location in New York, promises to be a compelling journey through the artistic evolution of Ashley Bickerton. It offers a chance to delve into the enigmatic world of his “Blur” paintings, rediscover his iconic sculptures, and immerse oneself in the profound connection he shared with the ocean—a fitting tribute to an artist whose influence continues to resonate across generations.
Opening Reception: Friday, September 8, 6–8pm
Dates: September 8–October 14, 2023
Location: 522 West 21st Street, New York