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"Piano Man" is one of twenty-nine new paintings by Gary Simmons virtually hanging at Metro Pictures in New York City. Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures
The paintings in Bill Simmons's latest show at Metro Pictures, Screaming into the Ether, are haunting. And a little unhinged. Namely because of the way Simmons intervenes in the images on the canvas. He first drew the figures—above, the early racist Looney Tunes character Bosko—using a black and white color palette, going back over the wax or paint with his hands to smear the image.

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This erasure isn't really successful; you can still very clearly see the original drawing. However, the smearing lends his paintings an energy that seems a little evil. In "Piano Man," Bosko's open mouth seems frozen in the middle of a disturbed laugh, his beady eyes melting away, the last image you see before being gulped down an animated, drug-fueled rabbit hole. Is anyone else hearing spooky piano music?

The entire show is based around Bosko and his crew, a character created by white animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, and grew out of the very American mediums of minstrel shows and blackface. Though some of the explicit anti-Black mannerisms in the first iteration of the cartoon were pared down in later versions, Bosko is still deeply intertwined with racism and minstrelsy.

And while I strangely like the unsettling nature of Simmons's show and his "examination" of racial stereotypes, I wonder about who exactly is buying his work and how it's being displayed. In a gallery setting, this ~*~*exploration~***~* seems almost academic in how it radicalizes the context and representation of a popular character like Bosko. But in a (white) collector's home? How does "Piano Man" read? I like thinking about where Black art ends up (and who ends up with it).

Gary Simmons's Screaming into the Ether is currently hanging at Metro Pictures—don't miss it.

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