Illustration for article titled Holocene Extinction: DeShawn Dumas At Ethan Cohenem/em

June 22 to July 24, 2017
291 West 19th Street, between 7th and 8th avenues
New York City,


DeShawn Dumas, Neoliberal Waltz, 2017. Thermoplastic and spray paint on wood, 36 x 80 x 2-1⁄2 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Ethan Cohen New York

Painters work within the conventions of their times, by which I do not just mean within a style or an aesthetic: they are bounded within modes of thinking and feeling that are so pervasive as to be virtually invisible. Some artists embrace these constraints or strain against them, while others both use and rebel against what is given.


DeShawn Dumas, in his exhibition Holocene Extinction, takes a number of the conventions of painting today, pushes them, and in the process makes something urgent. These include provocative use of materials, play of one visual system against another, and the presence of painterly gesture. But this work reaches beyond the formal into a zone of emotion and immersion that itself becomes a medium conveying the personal, the political, and the transcendent, and back again in a continuous loop of reference and contingency.

At the same time that he presents us with this multivalent psychic spectacle, Dumas seals it within glass or thermoplastic, surfaces that are occasionally broken. The transparent sheets both encase the works and carry paint on their reverse sides, in a contemporary version of traditional glass painting. The effect is to dramatize the artist’s and the viewer’s relationship to feeling: at once impassioned and distanced.


In this exhibition Dumas presents work in multiple modes, demonstrating painting’s capacity to unsettle itself, while working both within and beyond its known dimensions. Most striking are the artist’s large-scale paintings that layer reflective Mylar that has been distressed until it is full of holes and fissures. Enhanced with spray paint, these works are psychedelic fantasias, gorgeous and dangerous in their dissolution.

Once Upon the Amazon (Ayahuasca) (2017, all works in show), in a profusion of reflective greens and golds, evokes both the growing world and the inner space of drug-aided visions. The same spirit prevails in Destiny v. The Water Protectors, a work dominated by depths of blues and green. Particularly stirring among the three Mylar works is Hold in Mind (Whiteness and Western Transcendence – apolitical, ahistorical, postracial utopia). In chartreuse, scarlet, and powder blue, it gives us a glimpse of the sublime and simultaneously questions an aesthetic convention left untouched by a larger social awareness.

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