Benjamin Cottam: Crayon Drawings

April 27 – June 1, 2014

Press Release

Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Gallery is pleased to announce a solo exhibition of powerful new work by Benjamin Cottam. The artist’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery includes some of his most trenchant works to date. Bringing highly skilled, neo-classical draftsmanship to two of today’s most dominant subjects in American culture—American military engagements in the Middle East and an obsession with reality television and its ‘stars,’ Cottam’s new works evoke both master techniques of the past—think of Poussin or Ingres—and two major impulses of contemporary culture. His series of “reality stars” foregrounds our culture’s obsessive interest in the personal lives of otherwise unremarkable individuals, and, paired in the same exhibition, his “collateral damage” drawings reveal the veiled realities of others caught in the crossfire halfway around the world.

 

While no one may actually believe in the reality that broadcast and cable television productions feign to represent, viewers are drawn to them nonetheless. Cottam’s unconventional pairing of these two bodies of work evokes an underlying darkness that connects them. Relying heavily on the concept of ‘rubber necking’: the drive to view a car crash, the impossibility to avert ones eyes in the face of such tragedy— Reality Stars are those train wrecks waiting to happen for our entertainment. By contrast, the other group of Cottam’s drawings, his intimately drawn works in white wax crayon on blue paper, reflect some of the worst atrocities of our time. And these are almost never represented in the tabloid media sphere or even our top news outlets. His collateral damage drawings show anonymous victims of drone strikes rarely seen by the general public, firing squads and military personnel posing with their first ‘kills’. Rarely witnessed, their existence is actively obscured. Their touching and heart-wrenching portraits are shown together with Cottam’s diminutive portraits of reality ‘stars’ like Kris Kardashian and Honey Boo-Boo, who are in comparison totally overplayed in the media.  

Cottam is known for past bodies of work such as his Dead Artists series, where he first experimented with small silverpoint portraits of (mostly male) artists from the canon of modern art in the West. Subsequently, he touched upon the subject of the tragic pop star with his first drawing of a figure not from art history, the rock star, Amy Winehouse upon her death. Simultaneously, Benjamin Cottam made darkly layered portraits of friends and colleagues that appear at first glance to be black monochrome paintings. These too linked life, death and the relative legibility of the human face in portraiture.

 

 

About Benjamin Cottam

Benjamin Cottam lives and works in New York City. He received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and his MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. His work has been shown and collected internationally, and recent major museum shows include No New Thing Under the Sun, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2010; Stuff, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, Michigan, 2007; Of Mice and Men, The 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, Berlin Germany, 2006, as well as gallery shows at Bartha Contemporary in London, Galerie Von Bartha in Basel and solo exhibitions at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, NY. Cottam’s work has been collected by The Museum of Modern Art, NY, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY