Barry McGee’s recent retrospectives at the Berkeley Art Museum and Boston’s ICA touted his origins as a street artist, but his debut at Cheim & Read tones down the grit. His paintings of undulating geometries and concentric lines seem more cerebral than populist, raising the question, has McGee gone upscale for good?
He offers a reply with an eye-popping array of surfboards of varying length stacked against a wall near the entrance. Bearing his signature logos and vividly colorful patterns of interlocking triangles, they argue that McGee’s style remains just as malleable as it did in the street. A yard-sale-like assortment of lamp shades, ceramics and items such as Tiki figures—some covered with McGee’s trademark images of sad-sack men—emphasizes the point.
McGee’s blending of art and commerce is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Some of the works in the main gallery stumble, including one emblazoned with fong, one of the tags McGee uses for his work on the street. Another is tattooed with the initials thr, which stand for the harsh reality. Both seem token, somehow.
Still, it’s hard not to like the showstopper in back: an untitled installation of ephemera— photos of guys tagging, texts, sketches and doodles by the artist’s father—that literally bulges off the wall. A monument of sorts, its dazzling color and energy suggest that McGee can reconnect with his roots anytime he likes.—Merrily Kerr