if we were immortal: Slater Bradley at Team Gallery

Jon Leon


Much has been written about New York artist Slater Bradley since his debut at Team Gallery ten years ago. Some have sung his praises, some his pitfalls. In some cases facileness is implied, in others, eminence. No matter what or how you call it, Bradley’s youthful obsessions are always engaging, never boring, and totally worth it.

In if we were immortal his lugubrious interests focus on Joy Division, a band whose vocalist committed suicide in 1980, at 23 years old, after the band released only two albums. In this, his sixth show at Team, Bradley chooses to meticulously redo graphic images from a subculture and re-present them in another medium—painting. He renders covers of Joy Division bootlegs and imagery from various promotional ephemera in oil and palladium leaf on linen. Dante’s Inferno, a rendering of the 1985 Gala Records release, another Joy Division bootleg, is likely the first piece you’ll notice upon entering the gallery. It’s a large painting, 96 x 72 inches, the exact cover image of the record minus the name Joy Division. Another curio, a black jacket with the word HATE in white scrawled across the back lies hauntingly in the middle of the gallery floor. Ian Curtis had worn a jacket just like it when frequenting the Manchester punk club Electric Circus. The jacket’s nostalgic twinge is like a zone of memory that dilates an era and imposes on our notions of operational time by making feelings and personal identification a unit of measurement.

On display are ten 12 x 12 inch paintings depicting the covers of Joy Division bootlegs. They are not all exact replications, some are cropped portions, some invented by Bradley. Of the ten square paintings Stroszek’s Last Stand is the most brilliant and ominous. It depicts five nooses dangling around a television set displaying a still from the Werner Herzog film Stroszek. Joy Division frontman, Ian Curtis, reportedly watched the film the night he ended his life by hanging. The walls of the room in which the television stands are pink and blue, brighter than the dominant grays, braised gold, and other dark colors used elsewhere in the exhibition.  If you follow the trajectory of squares into the rear gallery you’ll find another large, 96 x 72 inches, painting titled The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, inspired by the disc of the same name featuring early Joy Division studio sessions. It appears washed out and abused with some yellowing in the upper left and the words Joy Division receding and barely legible near the bottom. To its left are four monitors displaying Aquaseafoamshame, a very short video of green ocean waves breaking at sunset as a breeze sends sea foam swirling around a dancing little girl. The music that accompanies the video is reminiscent of Joy Division’s plodding post-punk melancholia. There are three black & white photographs in the exhibition, two of a nude dark-haired female model (Katherine), and Carpe Diem, in which the subject peers curiously at the viewer in close-up.

There is an eerie feeling of remorse and nostalgia in these works, like that of a gifted fan attempting to seal in time the timeless for his own time. Some reviews cite Bradley as not working hard enough to explicate his sentimental and self-referential work more completely. His videos, for which he is most noted, are abbreviated minutes of cinéma vérité and require minimal editing. By shifting away from photography and video this show seems to be an attempt by Bradley to say Look, I can paint too. And Look, I like Joy Division too. Both statements duly qualified in if we were immortal.

if we were immortal is on display from 12 November through 19 December 2009 at TEAM Gallery, 83 Grand Street, New York, NY. Image above from the if we were immortal installation.