Exhibit | Eric Yahnker Plumbs the Depths of American Dumbness
Eric Yahnker, “Exceptional Suicide”, 2015.
Dumbness is everywhere. Donald Trump, the parody-proof candidate, is just one example of our fascination with the pervasiveness of dumb as it plays out in the theatrical world of American politics. Eric Yahnker’s solo show Noah’s Yacht at Zevitas Marcus Gallery presents viewers with all types of American dumbness, including pun-able phrases, clichés of American memorabilia and the linguistic playfulness of recent political histories. If you don’t get all the references in this show, however, you’ll feel as dumb as George Bush messing up the “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” idiom. Yahnker is all about making sure the viewer enjoys the dumbness, but unfortunately there isn’t much of a payoff even if you do get the joke.
Visitors to the gallery are greeted with a sense of horror and intrigue thanks to “Precious Patriotism” (2015), a charcoal and graphite-on-paper piece that’s visible through the gallery’s front window. In it, Gollum from Lord of the Rings is wearing a hat with the text “Make America Great Again” printed across the front. The piece sets the tone for this show, which is equal parts pure horror and American cultural critique-as-joke. Inside the gallery, the sardonic critique continues. “Angel in the Outfield” captures a pieta-like Jesus missing a fly ball. Kurt Cobain is seen as a doubled, Siamese-twin type version of himself in the colored pencil on paper drawing “Kurt & Son.” Cowboy boots with squiggly mouths and dots for eyes hug each other in “Worn Leather.” A defiant Prince wearing a purple outfit on a motorcycle gets stopped by the police in “Purple Lives Matter.”
Some of the work is funnier because of the titles and meme-like quality of the pieces themselves. “Abe Lincorn” is a profile of Abraham Lincoln sporting cornrows, an example of white-on-black appropriation. Ye olde Donald Trump wears various punk-inspired golden earrings in the colored pencil on paper piece, “Pierced Piety” (2015), a reminder of how much he is “rocking” racism, sexism, Islamophobia and anti-immigration.
Another political reference appears in “Honorable Discharge” (2015). Here we see a pastel on paper drawing of America’s triumphant bald eagle, except this one is double-eyed, appearing more like the mutant, triple-eyed orange fish Blinky from The Simpsons. Yahnker’s gnarly, double-eyed bald eagle flies across an eerily multi-hued sky, in mid-shit, discharging a stream of white. In other words, this could be about saying that it’s pretty shitty to get an honorable discharge. Yahnker makes a fun pun using the otherwise proud and dignified American symbol of bravery and masculinity.
In the reception area of the gallery, Yahnker drops in his ongoing collection of movies that have the word “American” in the title. He calls this one “American Piece” (2016), a pleasurable ongoing collection of America’s self-referentialness, much like a lot of the work in this show.
Overall, Yahnker clearly enjoys making visual jokes and puns. It’s refreshing to see these works on paper and the sculptures, all exhibiting a high level of skill and attention to detail. However, if all these pieces are conscientiously dumb and about dumbness, one starts to wonder if satire for satire’s sake is truly meaningful. Individually, each of these pieces are technically adept and poignant, but as a series, one gets the sense that they’re all riffing on the same joke. It’s a good joke, but even a good joke, when told in repetition, loses some of its mystery and power.