Bob Dylan gets another art show, this time minus the controversy

bob-dylan-gets-another-art-show-time-minus-controversy
'Revisionism: Thirty New Works' opens Nov. 28. (William Claxton)
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Jed Lipinski

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The art career of Bob Dylan, as much as his musical career, has been marked by love and theft.

Last fall, Dylan sparked a small controversy when it was discovered that an exhibition of his drawings and paintings at the Gagosian Gallery on the Upper East Side, titled The Asia Series, contained a number of works copied directly from photographs in the public domain. The photographs received no credit, and press representatives for Dylan did not respond to the accusations.

Never one to be discouraged by accusations of plagiarism, however, Dylan is mounting a brand new series of works at Gagosian beginning on Wednesday, the gallery officially announced today. The exhibition, Revisionism: Thirty New Works, will run through Jan. 12 and will include mostly large-scale, silkscreened images that re-contextualize magazine covers and other pop arcana.

Gagosian said in its release that Dylan has “transformed popular design elements—from Bondage Magazine to Babytalk—by reconsidering the purposes of each: the graphics, syntax and chromatic content.” Further, Dylan “combines a wide range of popular styles, the sources of which he has reshaped to produce new conflations of image and meaning.”

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Thus far, the gallery has released only one image from the show: a 50-by-40 inch silkscreen on canvas titled Baby Talk Magazine: Strengthen Your Baby (2011-2012). The image depicts what looks like a muscular male dwarf with a mohawk flexing on the cover of Babytalk’s (fake) September 2012 issue. The cover text includes teasers for articles on “How to Strengthen Your Baby” and “Facelifts for Babies.”

Babytalk is the oldest baby magazine in the United States, which may have interested the Americana-obsessed Dylan. Whether Babytalk's occasionally provocative cover imagery has influenced the world of magazine design is up for debate.

Once the news broke that Dylan had copied popular photographs for The Asia Series, members of the media began carefully scrutinizing its press release for signs of falsehood. The release claimed, for instance, that the images provided a “visual reflection on his travels in Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea,” and that Dylan was “inspired by everyday phenomena in such a way that they appear fresh, new and mysterious.”

But as commenters on the discussion board of Expecting Rain, a popular Dylan fan site, quickly pointed out, several of the paintings were closely modeled on photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the early-20th-century photographer Leon Busy. Of the 18 canvasses in the show, six of them appeared on a Flickr photostream by a user named Okinawa Soba.

“[I] can assure you that at least a good handful are actually "visual paint-overs" of old photos sitting in a box right here in my house in the Poconos of Pennsylvania!” Okinawa Soba wrote on the site.

The news release for Revisionism reads like a sly response to the outcry that greeted The Asia Series. “Dylan has long been a willful contextualizer of his own source material,” it reads. “His Revisionist art provides a glimpse of an artistic process that is equally maverick and elusive.”

Judging from the critical reception to his last show, though, Dylan fans may not want to get their hopes up. As Holland Cotter wrote in a review for The New York Times: “not even whispers of potential ethical impropriety can make these paintings interesting to look at.” He added: “The color is muddy, the brushwork scratchily dutiful, the images static and postcard-ish. The work is dead on the wall.”

Above images are, from left, 'Playboy Magazine: Sharon Stone' (2011–12), and 'Baby Talk Magazine: Strengthen Your Baby' (2011–12), by Bob Dylan. © Bob Dylan, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, photos by Robert McKeever.