After Donald Trump’s world-shaking election day victory in November 2016, the famously versatile Jim Carrey transformed yet again. Having already morphed from a comedic giant into an award-winning dramatic actor, the man we once knew as the pyromaniac Fire Marshal Bill began lighting up Twitter with a series of scathing political cartoons attacking the Trump presidency and its political dysfunction.
Now, after nearly two years of confining these works to social media posts and press reproductions, Carrey’s practice has earned a prestigious new venue. From October 13 through November 10, Maccarone will fill its Los Angeles space with the solo exhibition, “IndigNation: Political Cartoons by Jim Carrey, 2016-2018.” The show will feature roughly 80 sketches and a single painting, with its run deliberately scheduled to align with the November 6 midterm elections.
In an email to artnet News, gallery founder Michele Maccarone recalled her first encounter with Carrey’s work on Twitter, where the star currently counts nearly 18 million followers. But while she describes having been “totally captivated” by the cartoons from afar “for some time,” the collaboration didn’t crystallize until she arranged an old-fashioned studio visit early last spring, just before Carrey began shooting his new Showtime series Kidding.
After seeing the sketches in person and learning more about Carrey’s process, Maccarone was convinced the work needed to be shown. “The cartoons seemed so urgent to me,” she explained. “I immediately felt the impulse to exhibit them.”
From Man on the Moon to Maccarone
Despite what skeptics in the art world might think, the pioneering gallerist does not consider hosting a fiercely woke Carrey to be a dramatic departure from her program. Asked about the place of “IndigNation” in the gallery’s history, Maccarone cited multiple antecedents whose motivation was more political than commercial.
She points out that she opened the gallery in 2001 with a show by Christoph Büchel, “whose practice is radical and political and anti-market by definition,” she wrote. “When we moved to Greenwich Street in 2007, our first exhibition was with Paul McCarthy, who critiqued the commercial gallery world by turning our space into an elaborate, fully functional chocolate factory that produced thousands of chocolate Santa Clauses holding big butt plugs that we sold for only a hundred dollars each.”
In short, it would be a mistake for us to fixate on Carrey’s abbreviated history of exhibiting inside the white cube. (Earlier apolitical paintings by Carrey were the subject of solo shows at Palm Springs mainstay Heather James Fine Art in 2011 and the Signature Gallery Group’s Las Vegas space last fall.) Maccarone’s interest, she says, lies in the actor-artist’s righteous fury in the here and now.
“At the heart of it all, I have always gravitated toward art that was urgent, unafraid,” Maccarone explained. “And now in a moment when I feel so frustrated with the world around us, here is Jim with a voice that is also a vehicle for my own.”
The Kaufman Connection
Yet this is not the first time that Maccarone and Carrey’s voices have aligned inside the gallery.
The two originally met while the gallerist was preparing the 2013 exhibition “Creating Reality, by Andy Kaufman.” For that show, artist Jonathan Berger collaborated with the estate of the late comic and performance-art trailblazer to fill Maccarone’s Greenwich Street space with Kaufman’s ephemera, a “rotating cast” of his friends and family, and even a live portrayal of one of his most notorious personas: the combative lounge lizard Tony Clifton.
Carrey helped Maccarone fill out the show by loaning selected ephemera from his personal Kaufman collection. Perhaps the world’s biggest admirer of Kaufman, Carrey won a Best Actor Golden Globe for portraying the late comedian in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. A documentary released last year captures the eerie extent of Carrey’s immersion in the role.
He recounts in one of its interview segments that, after landing the gig, “Andy Kaufman showed up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, ‘Sit down, I’ll be doing my movie.’ What happened afterwards was out of my control.” (Archival footage from the set shows Carrey maintaining Kaufman’s various alter egos even off camera, to a degree that is by turns uproarious and unsettling.)
An Artist for His Times?
However, Maccarone emphasized that the Kaufman connection had no bearing on her decision to work with Carrey on “IndigNation.” The exhibition came about because she sees the actor’s cartoons fulfilling an “obligation” that many, if not most, American artists in every medium have backed away from—at least, in comparison to their peers abroad.
“It seems to me that artists in other parts of the world are doing a better job at protesting and engaging with political dysfunction than we are here in the US,” she wrote. “This exhibition is a protest, regardless of what happens in the midterms. Someone needs to say something loud and clear.”
In this light, Carrey’s work looks all the more necessary for its freedom from art-historical aspirations. But given that a certain segment of the collecting population leans hard to the political right—perhaps even moreso in Los Angeles, where one district in Beverly Hills actually went for Trump in 2016—is there a commercial risk for Maccarone in showcasing Carrey’s aggressive partisanship?
“I believe in this message and that’s all there is to it,” she wrote. “The real risk is saying and doing nothing.”
“IndigNation: Political Cartoons by Jim Carrey, 2016–2018” is on view from October 13–November 10 at Maccarone, 300 South Mission Road, Los Angeles.
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