Dan Colen
by Dike Blair

The combination of fun* and art is a strange cocktail that is usually served-up during flush economic times. The people who watch art and artists tend to be divided in terms of their attraction or their repulsion to that pairing, and there are some who are simultaneously attracted and repulsed (I fall into that last category). The people who are attracted to fun in art are usually young (I'm not) and are part of the fun, or are older and get a piece of the action vicariously. The people who are repulsed by the pairing include art world moralists who consider the making of art a mission of spiritual sanctity or political righteousness, or the artists and promoters of the fun art that the new generation of fun art is displacing. Dan Colen and his friends (who include Ryan McGinley, Dash Snow and Nate Lowman) are young and attractive and they take lots of drugs and have lots of sex. They appear to be having a lot of fun and they play at appearing to have a lot of fun. They are well aware that their insouciance can lead to the critical dismissal of their work. They know the arc of celebrity; they're not stupid even if they're super attracted to things stupid. One thing that Dan does really well is to flirt with that potential of dismissal by incorporating it in his art.

For those unfamiliar with Dan's art, I should give an abbreviated inventory, as the images in these pages constitute something of a unique project. (In fact, Dan constantly creates or adopts and adapts new formats for his work.) Early on, in what is solely a 21st century career, he made pop-surreal-photorealist paintings with dramatic lighting; kind of de la Tour meets Dali meets Disney. Later he sculpted faux rocks and covered them with simulated graffiti and chewing gum. He has meticulously crafted a diorama of his friend Dash's apartment wall; that ambitious sculpture includes trompe-l'œil paintings of tabloid newspaper clippings. He has done straight photography of accumulated bird shit that is highly painterly and looks like a picture of a juicy Twombly or Poons painting. And similarly he has used oil paint to carefully simulate bird shit, creating lyrically evocative and lovely paintings. He has detourned found paintings, embellishing them with jottings and images…these he showed in the toilets at Gagosian's gallery. Over the last few years Dan and Dash have gone on road trips and, while visiting such places as Miami, Los Angeles and Tijuana, they'd convert their motel rooms into hamster nests of crumbled and torn phonebook pages. Last summer this gesture was formalized into a sleepover performance/installation/happening at Deitch Projects.

All of Dan's work reads like he's giving the raspberry to the art world while sending a valentine to art and art history. His stuff is openly dependent on a lot of other art and artists. One of the refreshing things about his art is how transparent his borrowing is. His influences are many, but they could plot fairly easily as a line from Andy Warhol to Richard Prince to Wade Guyton and Kelly Walker. However, he'll grab anything. Fragonard is there, as are Disney and Kinkaid. There's little that Dan won't consume and redeploy and promiscuity is part of the point; he and his friends swap each other's images and styles like Pokemon cards. There's also quality of fantasy to his borrowing; it's like a kid rummaging through his parents' closet and trying on their clothes. It's in the blatancy of the borrowing, the re-appropriation of appropriation art, that hubris and humor lurk. Whereas many post-pop artists try to sweep away the footprints that lead from Andy's studio to theirs, Dan puts up signposts. None of this would work, of course, if he didn't bring something else to the table.

One of the things I really like about Dan's practice is how he messes with expectations and assumptions around invested labor and value. He weights equally and is equally disposed to employ an illustrator to make him a 30 second sketch, or to invest four months burning the midnight oil while he painstakingly paints the final layer of Giuseppe's workbench candle (pictured here). His signs, which say things like "Holy Shit" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong," look as if they were spray-painted in 20 seconds but are, in fact, meticulously painted by hand. He dedicates a lot of time to fine-tuning and executing extraordinarily banal things. There's an element of Koonsian fetishism and critique to all of this, but Dan doubles-up on his bet by (sometimes) investing massive labor in things that (sometimes) look like shit.

The thing that ultimately wins me over in Dan's work is the sheer fun or pleasure he takes in presentation and representation and re-representation. One can feel the delight in his displays, and he's very generous in displaying his life and art. Then there's the somewhat stupid but sublime pleasure in the act of representing something really well. The sixth grader who draws a reasonable facsimile of Spiderman knows that pleasure, and his sixth grade peers marvel at the magic of a specific skill. That pleasure gets complicated and harder to fulfill as the artist ages and his domain expands to include a contemporary art world and the history of art. But I'm sure that Gerhard Richter, when finally gets his glowing candle, still feels it. I know Dan feels it when he nails one of his Disney candles. I know I marvel and get pleasure from looking at the skill of his re-representations. When I add that pleasure to the pleasure of watching all the fuck-you moves and canny stupidity of the work, I find it all very entertaining and intoxicating and fun.

* My dictionary defines fun as something that provides enjoyment or amusement and/or involves playful joking, often at the expense of another. I'll expand that a bit and describe "fun art" as an art that necessarily includes elements of a "scene" and, as such, has a strong relationship to fashion and publicity.