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Through the work of ten New York–based artists, The Pursuit of Happiness, curated by Christopher Howard, explores the representations of happiness in contemporary art as a question or proposition more than a definitive statement. Some works openly welcome this fleeting emotion into their iconography, while others harbor skepticism toward it by examining false notions of happiness in a consumer-driven society. (These conflicting views are often seen within the same work.)
Other artists use tropes of happiness as a formal launching point into other areas. Whether happiness is bright colors, pretty pictures, love, sex, food, or a state of being is debatable; it is clear that happiness is an imperative motivating factor in human behavior and therefore it is also a motivating factor in art.
How best to achieve happiness in life is as intensely debated today as it was in the Enlightenment or ancient Greece. Considering current scientific, economic, and social theories, and in a culture of instant gratification and psychopharmacology, it is questionable as to whether we are closer to finding the key to happiness. By examining the pursuit through art, perhaps we will find a deeper understanding of the search.
The artists working in a variety of mediums comprise the exhibition, each with a different expression of happiness. Kent Rogowski’s exuberant puzzle montages and reconstructed teddy bears play on how memory is embedded tangibly in childhood toys and events, and Jonny Detiger’s swirling paintings and drawings draw on psychedelic imagery to represent desire in myriad forms.
Jennifer Sullivan’s folksy mixed-media work and Diane Carr’s felt and foam landscapes focus on the imagination of hopes and dreams surrounding happiness through popular culture and nature. The uninhibited, sexually engaged characters in Tracy Nakayama’s drawings create a dialogue about openness and pleasure, as well as the sense of nostalgia and loss.
For Rebecca Chamberlain, happiness can transcend the personal, as her drawings of reproductions of International Style homes and offices make promises of efficient, refined living. Alexander Reyna and John Bowman present happiness as excess with video images of preadolescent male joys and paintings of an abundance of food and luxury objects.
Carol Shadford and Vandana Jain examine the strain of feigned happiness and troubled desire. In Shadford’s video, characters are asked to hold a smile for as long as possible, illustrating how the initial genuine pleasure turns into discomfort over time. Similarly, in Jain’s work, advertising catchphrases emphasize how immediate gratification has few long-term effects.
Artcat selected The Pursuit of Happiness as a Pick during the run of the exhibition.
Art Krush, “Interview: Guy Richards Smit,” Art Krush, December 13, 2006.