Trash, Treasure: Nate Lowman’s Selective Memory



New York artist Nate Lowman’s iconophilic paintings, sculpture and bricolage have a story of cultural alienation to tell. “I love language, and I love the failure of language,” Lowman said. “To me, a drop of oil paint or a xerographic dot are the same thing—they’re all just language.” Just as well: all the works for this upcoming show are still nameless, as titles are the last step.
Late last week, Lowman and his assistants were spread over two large studios (one the artist’s own, in Tribeca; the other a Chinatown loaner from his dealer), preparing work for a behemoth, painting-heavy exhibition, “Trash Landing,” opening May 7 at Maccarone and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. The two-gallery premise is a gambit by the two dealers that last fall featured Rob Pruitt.

The 32-year-old Lowman has shown consistently for the past decade, and makes work that hails from the twin temples of pop-culture atrocity and political disaster, with detours into environmental destruction. These have included Xerox collages examining Serena Williams’s “sweet stalker,” Albrecht Stromeyer (Why I Love Serena, 2003), and sculpture consisting of rusted gas station pumps that acts as a metaphor for the war in Iraq (The Never Ending Story, 2007). 

Less obviously, the artist has used the language of mediation to create a vocabulary of recurring images—continually playing from his own picture deck to build an alternative iconography. Recalling artist Nancy Spero, whose invented dictionary of hieroglyphs substituted for semiotics, Lowman’s catalogue of images suggests a desire to say something, repeatedly, about culture that goes beyond words. Since 2001, for example, he has reused the same image of a topless Nicole Brown Simpson (derived from a topless image that was allegedly sold to a tabloid by Brown Simpson’s own sister). Several paintings based on this image will be included in “Trash Landing.”