Gagosian presents Thinking the Unthinkable, an exhibition of new paintings by Jim Shaw from January 12 through February 25, 2023. This is his debut exhibition with the gallery, which has stated that he will represent the artist in 2021.
Shaw reanimates mythological concepts in these pieces through episodes from political history and popular entertainment, two seemingly distant disciplines that intersect here in a surreal mélange. The people in these images reflect “an American limbo, perilous seas into which the artist wades more and deeper,” writes Catherine Taft for Gagosian Quarterly in 2022. “Strewn throughout are conflicting motifs, such as the mushroom cloud, the pillar, the egg, the alphabet, and the ocean,” Shaw said of the exhibition’s iconography. The title of the show, which implies both a hallucinogenic environment and the impossibility of studying our own consciousness, is borrowed from Herman Kahn’s 1962 book, Thinking About the Unthinkable.
Thinking the Unthinkable delves into the figure of the goddess, which for Shaw intersects with Marshall McLuhan’s thesis that the development of the phonetic alphabet had a divisive societal impact, as well as Leonard Shlain’s claim that written language laws curtailed the status of women and blunted the potential of matriarchal religion. Shaw depicts the Greek hero Cadmus Sowing the Teeth of the Slain Serpent (2022) planting the seeds of the alphabet and begetting the warrior fathers of Thebes, while in Going for the One (2022), he casts Raquel Welch as Shiva/Kali, god/dess of destruction and rebirth, demolishing 20th Century Fox’s headquarters. The latter scenario intersects with the exhibition’s other key motif: the gleeful deconstruction of Hollywood legend. “I had been researching the history of psychedelics and power,” recalls Shaw, “which led me to Cary Grant (who was, before Timothy Leary, the most vocal proponent of acid), which led me to Esther Williams and her acid trip, which reminded me of her version of the romance with Jeff Chandler.”
A zine including reproductions of Shaw’s drawings will be published in the Spring 2023 issue of Gagosian Quarterly and will be available at the gallery during Frieze Los Angeles 2023. (February 16–19). An illustrated catalogue with an article by Gagosian director Jessica Beck, photographs of the displayed pieces, extra recent paintings, and preparatory drawings will be released.