For this Summer Session topic of celebrity, today we bring you Allegra Kirkland’s review of the 2013 Llyn Foulkes retrospective at the New Museum. Across all of his multi- and mixed-media works, Foulkes’ oeuvre holds a special fascination for the hollow promises of fame implicit in American popular figures, like Mickey Mouse and Clark Kent. His heavily textured style viscerally manifests the darkness beneath the saccharine gloss of pop culture, revealing the physical and economic violence that underwrites Americana’s most beloved characters. This article was originally published on August 22, 2013.
Llyn Foulkes ranks among that rare cadre of artists for whom fame is an optional extra. Over the course of his fifty-year career, the Los Angeles–based multimedia artist and musician has experienced periods of success—for his monumental Pop-influenced paintings of rocks and, decades later, for his zany, large-scale narrative tableaux. But much of his work has been met with silence from critics and buyers, allowing Foulkes an enduring reputation as an underappreciated art-world outsider. The artist’s retrospective at the New Museum, a traveling exhibition organized by the curators of Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, positions him squarely in the canon of acclaimed American artists. Yet Foulkes, now seventy-eight, remains stubbornly opposed to the pitfalls and pretensions of the gallery and museum circuit. He is a product of the midcentury American West—a cynical, eccentric figure intent on skewering our national pop culture, political institutions, and military might in equal measure.