Benjamin Cottam, in his first New York solo show, inverted the common art-crit
assumption that all art has some essential relationship to death and/or nostalgia. In contrast
to classical portraiture, rather than capture moments or images in time, Cottam’s paintings—
at first glance black monoliths—sever presumed sentimentality. Cottam’s oils gain more
from the future than the past; it is by studied looking that the forms of Cottam’s works take
shape. Only gradually are foregrounds, on the cusp of perception, realized/invented by the
viewer. While Cottam’s glazes seem significant of a scrim representing the dark end that
awaits us, they are in fact barriers to the temptation of assumption, and ultimately, death
In Cottam’s second New York show, a group of ten portraits span Cottam’s
contemporaries: friends, supporters, other artists. The current moment is largely defined
by a movement to put forth the creative person first, to ignore the work and its content; it
is a ramification of a society resigned to the death of creative culture. But where many
artists dwell on the apparencies of persona—the fashionista clothing, the mock urbanity—
Cottam has stripped his figures of any facile cues. Cottam divests his subjects (including
himself, in a self-portrait) of the expectation that persona/identity functions to cast us in life
roles as tired as the characters of the latest Broadway Revival.
A series of 18 drawings, silverpoint on paper, sketch the inebriated states of Pete Doherty
(The Libertines, Babyshambles) during the course of his public-eye melt down. The dime-
size images shrink the person—absent media/pop grandeur—to a mere smudge of life.
These postage-stamp scaled images suggest not only what it means to be reduced to
symbol, but how the individual, in the present attitude of what art is, becomes reduced to
commodity. Even Rock ‘N Roll, with its age-old cycles (such as Doherty’s punk revival,
revival), has become a shadowy ghost of itself. Our fascination with figures such as
Doherty implicates us in the larger cultural zombification, which is fundamental to Cottam’s
commission: not only the horror, but the allure of spiritual death.
Benjamin Cottam received his BA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and his MFA from
the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. His work was been
widely shown and collected; he is presently included in the (2006) Berlin Biennial.
The opening will take place on Monday, May 8th, from 6 – 8 pm. For further information
please contact the gallery.
Monday, May 8th – Saturday, June 10th, 2006
Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc.